The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Washington State

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The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Washington State

By - March 3, 2015

By Eritrea Habtemariam, Narver Fellow 


This is the first post in a series on immigrants in Washington state.


During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers have an opportunity to enhance the already important contributions immigrants make in our state. As the Legislature considers funding for schools, health care and other services, along with other policies, it is important to understand how immigrants play a major role in Washington state’s economy and society.

Immigrants are an important part of the fabric of our society, making our state more culturally rich and economically vibrant. Like so many new Washingtonians before them, they come from all regions of the world in search of opportunity. 

The majority of immigrants in our state – who represent one in six workers (17 percent) – are from Mexico, the Philippines, Canada, Vietnam and Korea. (1) Immigrants – whether naturalized citizens, lawfully present, or undocumented – play a significant and growing role in Washington state’s economy. As 13 percent of the total Washington state population, immigrants’ share of total annual economic output is 14 percent. This proportional relationship is driven by three factors (2):

  • Eight out of every ten immigrants (80 percent) in Washington state are of prime working age (between 18 and 64), compared to six of every 10 U.S.-born Washingtonians (62 percent). The fact that immigrants are more likely to be of prime working age, positively impacts their contribution to the state economy because they are more likely to be participating in the labor force.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of immigrants in Washington state have white-collar jobs, which include occupations in fields such as education, health, and engineering. These kinds of jobs are more likely to pay well.  
  • Just over one in seven small businesses (15 percent) in Washington state is owned by an immigrant. Immigrant-owned businesses account for more than $1 billion a year in economic activity for our state.
Immigrant Economic Contributions


Clearly, the contributions of immigrants in Washington state are significant. Undocumented immigrants alone contribute nearly $300 million in state and local taxes each year. In order for immigrants to continue to thrive and contribute to the economy, our state Legislature must recognize, support, and pass policies that ensure their ability to do so.

One such policy involves restoring full funding to the state Food Assistance Program (SFA). Over 15,000 lawfully present immigrants in our state benefit from SFA. The current 75 percent funding level is insufficient to support families with growing children. By restoring full funding, legislators will ensure that all families in Washington state have access to nutritious food.

The Family Unity Act (FUA) is another policy decision that will greatly impact the well-being of immigrants in Washington state by changing the policies related to how local law enforcement agents implement federal immigration policy. The passage of the act will enable legislators to reduce detention costs, restore public trust in law enforcement, and keep families together.

The second post of this series will further explore the benefits of the Family Unity Act.

End notes:

(1) Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of 2009-2011 American Community Survey (ACS).

(2) Based on analysis and research by David Dyssegaard Kallick, Senior Fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute.