No, the Somalis aren’t sitting around mooching welfare, says census

Minnesota now has 24,000 immigrant-owned businesses that generate $489 million annually.

Minnesota now has 24,000 immigrant-owned businesses that generate $489 million annually. Fibonacci Blue

Among people whose worldview doesn’t linger on empathy, there’s a myth that Minnesota’s 50,000 or so Somalis came here to do little more than mooch welfare and bathe in our tropical weather.

The logic, if one could call it that, is that a people who endured lawlessness, genocide, and abject poverty were supposed to instantly thrive in a new land, avoiding state aide while simultaneously not stealing our jobs.

But the latest snapshot from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Somalis – and Minnesota’s immigrants in general – are doing as well as can be expected. At least compared to the Europeans who arrived before them.

According to the bureau’s American Community Survey released last month, 87 percent of Somali households have at least one person working. That’s lower than the state’s general population, but nonetheless impressive when considering the context.

Compared to white Minnesotans – whose median age is 41 – half the Somali population is 22 or younger. That means it’s heavily loaded with children, students, and women of child-bearing age who have yet to become full participants in the workforce. And according to the state, their employment rates have been nonetheless rising every year since the recession.

Somalis also appear to be providing a valuable service: working those low-paying jobs no one else wants. Eighty-percent live near the poverty level, with a median household income of just $20,600 annually. That’s well below the federal poverty line of $25,100 for a family of four.

In other words, they’re working for sub-poverty wages so grandma’s room at the nursing home is clean, and your cat food order is shipped from Amazon. 

Still, the portrait of Minnesota’s immigrants as a whole shows that the longer they’re here, the more they prosper.

The state is now home to 457,000 immigrants, nearly half of whom have already become naturalized citizens. While they may still be concentrated in lower-wage work – 60,000 are employed in health care services, for example – they now compose 20 percent of the workforce in computer and math-related fields.

They’re also showing an entrepreneurial streak, with 24,000 businesses that generate $489 million annually.

Most important – at least to those whose hearts need rust-proofing – is that they’re kicking huge dollars to the state treasury, especially in the metro area.

Just four counties – Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, and Washington – produce more state income tax revenue than the remaining 83 combined. Immigrants, largely concentrated in the Twin Cities, provide for $1.1 billion in state and local taxes each year.

So hear ye, dear haters from St. Cloud, Willmar, and beyond: The next time you feel like grumbling about the immigrants, you might wish to consult your wallet first.