Queens Immigrant Workers’ Impact On Economy

BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Staff Writer

Earlier this month, the Center for an Urban Future released a report it conducted on the impact immigrant workers have on the New York City economy by detailing the share of foreign-born workers in every occupation in the city.

The report shows that immigrants make up at least 70 percent of the workforce in 37 different occupations in New York City. The Queens Tribune spoke with Christian Gonzalez-Rivera — senior researcher at the center, who wrote the report and is an expert on immigrant and workforce issues — to discuss Queens immigrant workers’ economic impact specifically.

Photo by Bruce Adler Small businesses line Flushing’s Main Street.

Photo by Bruce Adler
Small businesses line Flushing’s Main Street.

According to Gonzalez-Rivera, Queens is home to a large population of New York City immigrant workers because of its lower cost of living.

The study found that 79 percent of foreign-born workers in Queens work in the healthcare nursing, psychiatric and home-health-aide fields; 74 percent work in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance fields as janitors and building cleaners; 90 percent work in transportation and material-moving fields as taxi drivers and chauffeurs; 70 percent work in sales and related fields as cashiers; 89 percent work in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance fields as maids and housekeeping cleaners; 80 percent work in construction and extraction fields as construction laborers; 55 percent work in sales and related fields as retail salespersons; 75 percent work in food preparation and serving fields as waiters and waitresses; 69 percent work in transportation and material moving fields as driver/sales workers and truck drivers; and 75 percent work in personal care and service fields as child workers.

“Many of the communities in Queens are gateway communities,” said Gonzalez-Rivera. “When we think about our economic development in New York City and look at areas like Flushing, Whitestone and Elmhurst, it’s immigrants that are starting small businesses one by one.

Thirty years ago, Flushing was aging and businesses were closing down. It was the immigrants that turned that neighborhood around. Immigrants are important.”

Three years ago, the city unveiled Career Pathways, a plan to expand access to career-track jobs in fast-growing industry sectors, to improve job quality and to foster a more cohesive workforce system.

“When we look at who works at those jobs, it’s immigrants,” said Gonzalez-Rivera. “If the city’s strategy to help people get into employment is going to work, they need to make sure that their services are reaching immigrants.”

According to Gonzalez-Rivera, 595,000 immigrant workers have a college degree, but one in every four immigrants works in an occupation that requires less than a college degree. Some of the reasons why are that they have a limited English proficiency and that their degree from their foreign university isn’t recognized in the United States.

“In Queens, every time Flushing Library announces openings for English classes, there are lines around the block,” said Gonzalez-Rivera. “In such a skilled-heavy economy, there needs to be more state and local funding put into English classes so that immigrants can contribute more to the workforce. Immigrants can only go further depending on our [the city’s] ability to make sure that they have access to the skills they need to be more competitive.”

The Center for an Urban Future’s full report, called “A City of Immigrant Workers,” can be viewed at nycfuture.org/data/immigrant-workers-data-brief. The data shown explore the impact of immigrant workers on the city’s economy and call for a coordinated strategy to include immigrants in the city’s workforce development system.

Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or ahernandez@queenstribune.com

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