nebraska meat packers
In Nebraska’s meatpacking industry, immigrant workers hold 80% of the jobs. Here, meat processors work at the Farmland plant in Crete, Nebraska.
Photo: Lincoln Journal Star

Native born Nebraskans cost the state more in government services than immigrants do, according to a recent report completed by an economics professor at the University of Nebraska.

Largely rural Midwestern and Great Plains states have experienced rapid increases in immigrant populations in recent years, as workers from Latin America and Africa have moved to small towns to work in the meatpacking and construction trades. This shift has heightened discussion in these states about the impacts of immigration on both local cultures and economies. Midwestern immigration was a dominant issue during the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

Nebraska has had a rapid increase in its immigrant population. In 2000, the U.S. Census calculated the state’s immigrant population at 74,638. Over the next six years, the number of immigrants rose 33.3%, according to the Census, to 99,500.

Over the same six year period, Nebraska’s native-born population increased by less than two percent.

University of Nebraska economics professor Christopher Decker set out to quantify the impact of immigrants on the state’s economy. He found that immigrants contributed to the state more than they received — and that without these workers the state’s economy would be considerably smaller. (Decker’s full report, a .pdf file, can be found here.)

nebraska schoolchildren

Elementary school students in Omaha look through a bilingual book
Photo: Office of Latino/Latin American Studies(OLLAS), University of Nebraska at Omaha

There have been few studies that attempt to measure whether immigrants use more public services (health care and schooling, primarily) than they pay in sales, income and property taxes, according to Decker. A study in New Jersey found that immigrants tended to pay in more than they received, while a report in North Carolina came to the opposite conclusion.

In Nebraska, Decker found, native-born citizens cost government more than immigrants. The average immigrant in Nebraska used $1,455 yearly in state services in 2006 — food stamps, public assistance, health care and schooling.

The average native Nebraskan used $1,941 in these same services.

The average immigrant paid government $1,554 in total property, income, sales and gasoline taxes in 2006, almost $100 more than the average consumption of state services

The average native born Nebraskan paid $1,944 in these same taxes in 2006.

In other words, Decker wrote, immigrant Nebraskans take 7% less in state services than they pay in taxes. Native born Nebraskans pay in taxes about as much as they take in food stamps, welfare, health care and education.

Decker found that immigrants in Nebraska have become a large part of the state’s economy:

“¢ Immigrants accounted for 9.65% of Nebraska’s construction employment, 7.3% of total employment in services and an astounding 80.4% of the jobs in meat processing.

“¢ Without immigrant workers in these three economic sectors (construction, services, and meatpacking), Nebraska’s total production would fall by $13.5 billion. Their absence would reduce the state product by 8.75%. More than half of that loss would be in rural sections of Nebraska.

“¢ If these jobs were taken by domestic labor, the losses to Nebraska would be smaller, but still significant. “For instance, if 75 percent of the jobs vacated by immigrant labor were replaced by domestic labor, this would result in $3.366 billion in lost production and 19,518 jobs would disappear,” Decker wrote.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.