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Resilience in an Age of Inequality

As communities brace for Trump’s attacks, new report showcases immigrants’ crucial role in Golden State’s civic and economic life. “Resilience in an Age of Inequality” points to all workers’ shared interests amid alarming concentration of wealth

Los Angelers-A new report released today examines immigrants’ profound contributions to California’s economic, social, and community fabric. Titled “Resilience in an Age of Inequality: Immigrant Contributions to California”, the report analyzes demographics, labor force participation, GDP, and household incomes for the state’s ten million immigrant residents, including nearly 3 million undocumented Californians. Audio from a tele-conference unveiling the report today is available here.

The report also places these contributions in the context of the growing crisis of severe economic inequality, showing that immigrant Californians share a common experience with other workers: helping to generate significant wealth for the state’s industries, yet facing exploitation and displacement. Published by the California Immigrant Policy Center, research for the report was conducted by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California, using data from the US Census Bureau and other sources.

Cynthia Buiza, Executive Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, stated: “Amidst the threat of mass deportation and persecution, this report illuminates a fundamental truth, rooted in our deepest values: immigrants are a vital part of California’s heart and soul. With California poised to play a major role in the coming years in defending our most cherished values, it’s clearer than ever that the fight for immigrant rights is inseparable from racial, social, and economic justice. Together, we can include all of our communities in the struggle for a more just and humane state – and a better world.”

Justin Scoggins, Data Manager at USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, presented key data findings from the report, including the following:

  • Immigrants are deeply rooted in California’s communities. More than 10 million immigrants call the Golden State home, and nearly 3 million immigrant Californians are undocumented. Nearly one in every two California children has at least one immigrant parent, and three in four non-citizens live in households that also have citizens.
  • California’s immigrant communities are incredibly diverse. Half of California’s immigrants are from Latin America, a third from Asia, and 2% (more than 200,000 people) are from Africa.
  • Immigrants produce a tremendous amount of wealth for major industries. Immigrants contribute about 32 percent of California’s GDP: around $715 billion, well over the total revenue of Wal-Mart in 2016. Undocumented immigrants alone contribute about $181 billion of California’s GDP – just about equal to the 2015 GDP for the entire state of Oklahoma.
  • Despite these vast contributions, immigrants- like other working people – face challenges as the concentration of wealth becomes more extreme. For all households headed by an immigrant, per capita income is a quarter less than overall per capita income in the state. For households headed by an undocumented immigrant – particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse – per capita income is only $16,100. Immigrants share of GDP is estimated at 32%, but their share of household income is 28%, suggesting immigrants produce relatively more than they take home in pay.

Amidst hateful rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize people with records, the report also highlights the story of Daniel Maher, an immigrant worker with past felony convictions whose experience shows the power of rehabilitation. Maher now mentors at-risk youth through environmental justice programs and workers as a recycling director.

“Resilience in an Age of Inequality” also presents short case-studies focusing on three specific neighborhoods in two of the state’s biggest urban areas – Los Angeles and San Francisco – where communities of immigrants and people of color, have very publicly grappled with gentrification and displacement.

For example, the report finds that in San Francisco’s Mission district between 2010 and 2014, there was a net decline in the immigrant population of 27 percent, despite a 3 percent net increase in the immigrant population San Francisco overall. This shift was accompanied by a dramatic increase in housing prices. At the same time, the report profiles the efforts of local community members in the Mission to fight displacement, including the story of two families – members of Causa Justa::Just Cause who successfully won a campaign to stay in their home.