State Capital at Vanguard of Immigrant-Rich, Vibrant Texas Economy

By January 30, 2014News & Press

Austin has hitherto been known for the Statehouse, the University of Texas and a booming, tech-based economy. As a financial and cultural center, the city has long stood in the shadows of cities like Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

But in recent years, the Lone Star State’s political epicenter has come of age economically and culturally. Immigration has been a prime engine behind the growing cosmopolitan character of the state capital.

While higher percentages of foreign-born residents still fill the populations of Houston and Dallas (composing 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively), foreign-born Austin residents now make up 20 percent of their city’s community.

Austin’s figure is greater than either Fort Worth (17 percent) or San Antonio (14 percent) can claim. Austin even beats the statewide percentage of foreign-born residents (16 percent) and the national figure (13 percent).

The breakdown of the foreign-born population is rich, too. 66 percent of the group is from Latin America, 24 percent from Asia and 6 percent from Europe.

Immigrants from Asia belong to Austin’s fastest-growing demographic group, boasting a 60 percent growth rate in the last 10 years — three times the rate of overall growth in the city. The dynamic high-tech sector attracts a large number of these Asian immigrants, many of whom seek an education or who already have the skills and education in great demand in the technology industry.

But the healthy economy has not been limited to Austin, nor has its benefits been enjoyed by immigrants only. Indeed, a low-tax, low-regulation environment throughout Texas has spurred growth across the state. That fact, in itself, has been the prime reason why immigrants — both native- and foreign-born — have been drawn to the Lone Star State.

While it may be counterintuitive to think that high immigration would be compatible with low unemployment, the unemployment rate in Texas stands at 6.2 percent — lower than the national rate of 7 percent — even as the percentage of foreign-born residents in the state has risen from 15.7 percent in 2006 to 16.4 percent today.

And when the foreign-born get to Texas (or elsewhere) and settle in, they spend money. It has been estimated that U.S. immigrants from Asia and Latin America possess approximately $2 trillion in purchasing power, which translate into homes, cars and other big-ticket items that help to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

In Austin, much of the rationale for spending among immigrants in the local economy is linked to either the tech industry or to higher education.

“We’ve long had an international community, and it’s very much been tied to the University of Texas,” said Ryan Robinson, an Austin demographer. “That’s huge.”

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