The Emigration of Arizona’s Economic Growth

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

For three years I was a caseworker at a refugee resettlement agency in Phoenix. I saw single mothers from the Democratic Republic of Congo commute by bus for three hours a day to two different jobs, and then spend their nights learning English with their children. I watched our Medicaid system take individuals who suffered from gunshot wounds, amputations and degenerative diseases while overseas and turn them into healthy employees who contribute to the workforce here in America. I witnessed former Lost Boys of Sudan transform themselves into dairy workers after confronting their post-traumatic stress through our mental healthcare systems, medications and steady housing opportunities.

Many Arizonans, however, see refugees and immigrants much differently – if they see them at all except through the distorted lens of harsh political rhetoric. As a result, much of the nation and world see Arizona as the land of “show me your papers” SB 1070.

However, a recent report by the New American Economy illustrates a different portrait. The study finds that immigrants in Arizona increased total home values in Arizona by $1.2 billion during the great recession, paid $5.4 billion in taxes in 2014 and contributed $2.7 billion to Medicaid and Social Security.1

Immigrants come here with productivity in mind. Research shows they are more likely to be working or looking for work than native-born Americans, and they make less money per hour, which over time pushes native-born Americans into higher-paying positions.234 Furthermore, 46 percent of immigrants have at least some college education, and they contribute to the U.S. tax base in the high-, medium- and low-income tax brackets.5 At the same time, Arizona’s native-born population is rapidly retiring and as a result will require a younger foreign-born population to support the myriad of increased costs associated with aging.6

Economic growth is not a zero-sum game; the more prosperous Arizona becomes the more Arizona residents stand to benefit. Arizona needs investment now, but it must step up to the challenge with vision and a sense of urgency. States such as California, Texas, Illinois and Michigan are vying for Arizona’s share of international trade and business.6 It is clear that immigrants and refugees are intrinsic parts of the equation for our state’s future economic success, and Arizona will only reach its fullest potential when it starts seeing all economic participants as assets instead of as liabilities.

Markets, human capital and business prospects flow toward areas of economic opportunity, not economic purgatory. Arizona should have the foresight to understand that human immigration can stop capital emigration.


1New American Economy. 2016.
2OECD; 2014 data
3Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2015 data
4The Effects of Immigration on the United States Economy. 2016.
5Economic Policy Institute. 2014. Facts about Immigration and the U.S. Economy.
6Arizona and Mexico. Arizona Town Hall. April 2016.

David Schlinkert

Morrison Institute blogs are intended to further public discourse regarding key and timely issues via diverse voices, expertise and experiences – including, when appropriate, in pro-and-con format. Blogs do not represent any official position of Morrison Institute for Public Policy or Arizona State University.