ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Hoping to boost the number of immigrants arriving here, local politicians huddle today at the Danforth Plant Science Center for a roundtable on the benefits of more foreign workers to the area.
A study to be released by St. Louis University economics professor Dr. Jack Strauss claims the 126,000 legal immigrants here now are more likely to have a PhD, a doctor’s degree or a college degree than the average American-born St. Louisan.
“In fact immigrants working here earn 25-to-29 percent more than the average American, because they have these advanced degrees,” Strauss said, “A lot of them are working at St. Louis University or Washington University, as doctors. A lot of them own small businesses. Some are lawyers. So, they’ve been very successful in our community.
Citing the recent loss of a congressional seat due to declining population, and the aging baby boomer population, Strauss says the region needs more international talent to grow and compete.”If we want to attract world-class companies to live here, if we want world-class ball teams, we need people willing to work,” Strauss said, “and one way we’re going to get those people is through initiating a pro-immigration policy.”
St. Louis County Executive Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Slay are scheduled to attend the event, calling for more immigrants.
No local labor leaders are on press release for the event. Bob Soutier, President of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council AFL-CIO, says he was unaware of the effort. More immigrants pouring into the area looking for work is not always good for wages, Soutier said.
“I know that the building trades have a lot of problems on prevailing wage jobs when out-of-state companies bring in illegal immigrants,” Soutier said, “There needs to be more inspections to prevent that. It’s an everyday fight to keep it from happening.”
Soutier says so far he sees immigrants making inroads in roofing, construction, lawn care and the hospitality industry.
How many illegal immigrants are living here is not tracked, but Professor Strauss estimates there are some ten-to-twenty thousand around St. Louis — that that, he argues, is a good thing.
“Illegal immigrants don’t collect welfare or food stamps from the government, so they’re not a drain on the system,” Strauss said. “And they’re working because obviously they couldn’t survive without a job, so they are contributing to St. Louis.”
Strauss was asked about the high unemployment rate in the African American community, estimated at 17 percent in north St. Louis, and whether illegal immigrants are taking away jobs that could be filled by Americans who are receiving taxpayer-funded living assistance.
“There’s no evidence at all that immigration, whether it’s legal or illegal, is hurting the African American community,” Strauss said, “I wouldn’t point to illegal immigration as a source of, or a reason why, they have a higher unemployment rate.”
Urban League President James Buford says he supports the initiative to bring more immigrants here. “I’m for it. I talked with the county executive about it. We’ve got to grown the numbers in our community. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
When asked if illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from the black community, Bufford says no. “I don’t think so,” he said, “I don’t think the immigrant population here is large enough to see much concern.”
Tuesday’s roundtable at the Danforth Plant Science center kicks off a year long effort to study ways to better attract more immigrants. Ideas on the table include using social media to recruit the friends and family of immigrants already here. There may also be a push to set up translation centers in local governments to help with the language barrier.
But Strauss knows, not everybody is excited about recruiting outsiders to town.
“We’re not open really to immigrants,” Strauss said,”You know, we have that saying, what high school are you from? And what that means is we’re a rather closed community.”