4816608544_acb0bc2034_zAs a gateway to the United States, New York City has long been defined by the generations of immigrants who have made it their home. In a city of 8.3 million people, more than 3.1 million—38 percent of New York City’s population—are foreign-born, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. And in the case of business ownership, immigrant entrepreneurs from around the world have played important roles in transforming and revitalizing many neighborhoods in New York City’s five boroughs. A new report from Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Immigration and New York City: Contributions of Foreign-Born Americans to New York’s Renaissance, 1975-2013, focuses on the role immigrants played in transforming the city following its near bankruptcy in the mid-1970s.

Immigration has provided “a socioeconomic boost to areas that might otherwise have seen high vacancy rates, abandoned housing, and little economic opportunity,” the report notes. According to the study’s findings, immigrants have contributed to revitalization in four ways:

  • Immigration is responsible for reversing New York City’s population decline. “After losing residents in the 1970s, immigration explains why New York City’s population reached an all-time high by 2000 and has kept growing in the new millennium. If those immigrants had not arrived, New York City’s property tax base would have eroded by $500 billion over 30 years, weakening the city’s capacity to provide basic services.”
  •  Immigrants have played a decisive role in reducing New York City’s crime rate. “Over the last two decades, police precincts in areas of greater immigration witnessed larger declines in crime rates. For every 1 percent increase in a precinct’s population due to immigration, an average of 966 fewer crimes are committed each year. This translates into up to two-thirds reduction in the crime rate.”
  • Immigration has lessened the city’s housing affordability problems. “While real estate prices have escalated dramatically in segments of Manhattan and Brooklyn dominated by U.S.-born residents, immigrants have blazed trails into formerly struggling sections of the city, in many cases re-establishing new neighborhood alternatives for middle-class families.”
  • Immigrants are contributing to the personal wealth of city homeowners. “The roughly 2 million immigrants who have arrived in New York since the 1980s are responsible for a $188 billion boost to home equity citywide. This impact is particularly notable in the boroughs outside Manhattan where immigrants have clustered. In the Bronx, immigrants have boosted the value of the average home by almost $7,000 since 2000. In Queens, the comparable figure is more than $3,300—a major boost to the wealth of home-owning families.”

Immigrants also have helped to grow New York’s business and entrepreneurship environment. In addition to starting service businesses like the typical “mom and pop” restaurants, retail, and grocery stores, immigrants also start businesses in mid- to high-growth industries. For example, immigrant entrepreneurs have “fueled much of the growth of businesses in food manufacturing (from tortillas to Jamaican beef patties), transportation (commuter vans and Chinatown bus companies), telecommunications (international phone cards)” and restaurant equipment wholesaling, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery, founded by a family of immigrants from Jamaica, is one example. Founded in 1989 in the Bronx, the business has now grown into a distributor of Jamaican food, with franchises across the U.S. and revenues of over $100 million, creating over a thousand jobs in the process.

For a city with a long history of opening its doors to newcomers from around the globe, the report’s findings are telling. In the years since New York was on the brink of bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, immigrants have become a driving force in the city’s dramatic turnaround, playing a pivotal role in making the city more safe and attractive to new residents.

Photo by Gregg Knapp.

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