Economy

A new study says over the long term, refugees in the United States have similar rates of workforce participation and business ownership as U.S.-born citizens.

The Center for American Progress and Fiscal Policy Institute looked at refugees who have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more, focusing on Somali, Burmese, Hmong and Bosnian refugee communities.

Bowling Green and Louisville are among the top-40 cities with the highest concentration of those four groups combined.

Kenny Colston, a spokesman for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said the study refutes a “misconception” that refugees who resettle in the U.S. don’t contribute to the economy.

“These people start small businesses, they’re buying homes,” he said. “When you add refugees, what you’re doing is strengthening your local and state economy.”

David Dyssegaard Kallick is the lead researcher of the study and a senior fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute. He said there’s been a dearth of research on long-term economic behavior in refugee communities.

“There’s lots of data about people when they first arrive, but there’s not a lot of data on them on how they’re doing 10 years later,” he said. “Of course they’re going to need some help getting a footing in the American economy and American society and just getting over the trauma that they’ve been through, but how do they do once they get past that.”

Kallick said he was particularly intrigued with the rate of refugee women in the workforce. Somali, Burmese and Hmong women started with low workforce participation. But after a decade or more of living in the U.S., their rates equaled those of U.S.-born women.

The U.S. has committed to taking in 85,000 refugees for the 2016 fiscal year. That number is up from the 70,000 in 2015. The increase is partly due to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Roxanne Scott covers the economy for WFPL News.