As Wisconsin’s population ages, we will need immigrants in our future workforce to keep our economy vibrant.
Over the past 15 years, the city of Green Bay has been transformed by immigration. From negligible proportions in 1980, the foreign-born and Hispanic populations of Green Bay grew steadily through the 1990s, and had established a significant community presence by the 2000s. Though this change did not come all at once, the release of the 2000 Census results crystallized locals’ thinking. According to one observer, “About 50 percent said: ‘This is great because the diversity will enrich us.’ But another 50 percent said: ‘Oh, my God, now what are we going to do?’” According to another, “For minorities to come here and live has created culture shock in Green Bay.”1
This study seeks to provide new information on some of the actual and potential consequences of immigration for Green Bay and surrounding Brown County, Wisconsin. Specifically, the study finds that:
- If recent demographic trends continue, Hispanics will grow from 10.7 percent of the Green Bay population in 2006, to at least 17 percent in 2017, to nearly 30 percent in 2032. This last figure would put Green Bay’s Hispanic population on par with that of contemporary Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico.
- Based on 2000 Census data, immigrant households in Brown County are estimated to have consumed somewhere between $4 million and $18 million more (in 2007 dollars) in state and local government services than they paid in state and local taxes. On the other hand, these same households most likely provided a partial subsidy of the federal programs and services that native Wisconsin taxpayers received. This is because immigrants (particularly illegal immigrants) make relatively large tax contributions to the federal government but are eligible for fewer benefits than the native-born population. At the state level, though, immigrant tax payments are relatively low, and the most expensive public service — K-12 public education— is available to the children of all immigrants, whether legal or illegal.
- Though the available data are suggestive rather than conclusive, there is little indication that immigration to Green Bay has harmed job opportunities for native workers. Furthermore, though the impacts are difficult to measure, Green Bay immigrants clearly have benefited the local economy by starting businesses, saving and investing money, purchasing consumable goods, hiring employees, and creating the conditions for more efficient use of capital through the provision of their labor.
- Data on the impact of immigration on wages in the Green Bay metro area are mixed and inconclusive. It seems unlikely, though, that any downward pressure on local wages due to immigration has been significant.