On January 28, 2019, Penobscot County Commissioners unanimously affirmed that refugees are welcome there. This is an important message to send in a county whose population has shrunk by 1.8% between 2010 and 2018, and where the unemployment rate is at 3%, a .8% drop from a year ago.
The Commissioners first took up the issue a week previously when asked to consider the issue of consenting to refugee resettlement pursuant to a presidential Executive Order E.O., which would give states and localities veto power over federal refugee resettlement. As described here, a federal court recently blocked implementation of that E.O. Because of the injunction, at the January 21st meeting, the Commissioners decided to table the issue to await the outcome of the federal litigation on the E.O.
On January 28th, Penobscot County residents, Bangor’s Maine MultiCultural Center, Catholic Charities Maine, and MeBIC urged the Commissioners to not wait to send the message that the County welcomes refugees. As MeBIC stated in its letter,
Despite starting with nothing, in a relatively short period, refugees contribute more to the economy in taxes than they consume in public benefits. A draft government report found in 2017 that within ten years of arrival in the U.S., refugees contributed more in taxes than they received in benefits. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that within six years of arrival, refugees have higher rates of labor force participation than native U.S. citizens, even if their wages may be lower, and within twenty years of arrival, have contributed $21,000 more in tax payments than they received in public benefits.
Other data indicates that refugees become entrepreneurs at higher rates than U.S. citizens and even than other immigrants, and in 2015, refugee-owned businesses generated over $4.6 billion in business income nationwide. That year refugees also paid nearly $21 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, and had over $56 billion in purchasing power. More refugees are in their prime working years than the native-born population, with over 77% of them of prime working age in 2015, compared to over 49% of native U.S. citizens. Data specifically for Maine’s District 2 indicates that in 2014, more than 750 immigrants, including refugees, owned businesses, and immigrants paid more than $34 million in state and local taxes.
Beyond the data, in communities such as Lewiston, the positive contributions of refugees can be seen clearly. Formerly abandoned storefronts have been revitalized with shops and restaurants started by refugees, and children who arrived as refugees are now college graduates who are participating in every facet of community life, including city government. Maine, and Penobscot County, need, and benefit from immigrants, including refugees.
MeBIC is gratified that the Commissioners responded favorably and unanimously consented to accept refugees, should Catholic Charities ever seek to resettle refugees in Penobscot County’s jurisdiction. No part of Maine, with our aging demographics and shrinking workforce, and with our humanitarian values, should be sending messages that refugees and immigrants are not welcome.