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Arkansas Is Home to Nation's Fastest-Growing Hispanic Population

Document date:
Released online: April 03, 2007

Contact: Stu Kantor, (202) 261-5283 or skantor@ui.urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 3, 2007 -- The Hispanic population in Arkansas grew 48 percent between 2000 and 2005, faster than that of any other state, says an Urban Institute study of Arkansas's immigrants.

Arkansas tied for fourth—with Georgia and Alabama—in its foreign-born growth rate: 37 percent. South Carolina led all states with a 47 percent increase, followed by Tennessee and Delaware.

Mexico and other Latin American countries accounted for 67 percent of the state's 104,000 immigrants in 2005, compared with about half nationally. Eighteen percent came from Asia, 12 percent from Europe, Canada, or Oceania, and 3 percent from Africa and other countries. Benton, Washington, Sebastian, and Pulaski counties were home to 63 percent of the state's immigrants.

The Urban Institute-led research team, which included scholars from the University of North Carolina, the University at Albany, and the Migration Policy Institute, found that 51 percent of the state's immigrants were undocumented in 2004–05, compared with 29 percent nationally. Overall, immigrants made up 4 percent of the state's population of 2.7 million in 2005.

For the most part, the researchers said, the growing Arkansas immigrant population has been a form of labor replacement. Between 1990 and 2000, the native-born population grew 12 percent; between 2000 and 2005, it did not grow at all. From 1990 to 2000, the number of native workers in manufacturing fell by 9,000, while the number of immigrants rose by 12,000. Manufacturing, especially poultry and other food processing, employed the most immigrants—42 percent in 2000.

"An aging native-born population and the approaching retirement of many workers will ramp up the demand for foreign-born workers," said Urban Institute demographer Randy Capps. "This may well accelerate related immigration trends—such as growth in the number of children of immigrants—and their influence on Arkansas's economic, social, and political institutions."

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation funded the two-part "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas" and an executive summary to understand better how immigrants affect the labor force, education system, and economy. The first volume, "Immigrant Workers, Families, and Their Children," provides a demographic overview of the foreign-born population, explores the composition of the immigrant labor force, and describes trends involving children in immigrant families. The second volume, "Impacts on the Arkansas Economy," describes immigrants' purchasing power, tax payments, fiscal costs, and indirect economic effects through spin-off jobs.

Immigrant Families and Children

The number of Arkansas children in an immigrant family (at least one foreign-born parent) grew 259 percent between 1990 and 2000, a rate exceeded by only North Carolina (273 percent). Sixty-six percent of Hispanic children and 79 percent of Asian children in Arkansas lived in immigrant families, compared with only 1 and 2 percent of white and black children, respectively.

Children in immigrant families were more likely than those in native-born families to live with two parents. In 2000, the shares of children in two-parent families were 85 to 89 percent for children of immigrants, 81 percent for whites in native-born families, 58 percent for Hispanics in native-born families, and 45 percent for blacks in native-born families. Children of immigrants were as likely as those with U.S.-born parents to live in families with at least one parent working full time.

During the economic boom of the 1990s, poverty among native-born residents declined by 4 percentage points, with the steepest drop occurring among native-born blacks (11 percentage points). Poverty rose by 2 percentage points among immigrants and by 3 percentage points among native- and foreign-born Hispanics.

In 2000, children in immigrant families from Mexico or Central America and Hispanic children in native-born families had similar poverty rates (32–37 percent), below the rate for blacks in native-born families (41 percent) but higher than the rates for Native American children, white children in native-born families, and children with immigrant parents from other parts of the world.

Thirty-one percent of children in immigrant families from Mexico or Central America lived in crowded housing (more than two people per bedroom) in 2000, compared with less than 10 percent of all other groups of children in immigrant and native families.

Economic and Fiscal Effects of Arkansas Immigrants

Arkansas immigrants had an estimated total after-tax income of $2.7 billion in 2004. About 20 percent was sent home to families abroad, saved, or used for interest payments. The remaining spending reverberated throughout the state's economy for a total impact of $2.9 billion, over half of which was concentrated in Benton, Washington, Sebastian, and Pulaski counties.

Immigrants and their children have a small but positive net fiscal effect on the state budget. Some $237 million in 2004 went to immigrant-related education, health services, and corrections. Those costs were offset by direct and indirect tax payments of $257 million, resulting in a net surplus to the state budget.

Immigrant workers contribute substantially to the economic output of the state and to the cost-competitiveness of key industries, the researchers pointed out. For example, without immigrant labor, manufacturing's output would likely be lowered by about $1.4 billion—about 8 percent of the sector's $16.2 billion contribution to the gross state product in 2004.

The researchers estimated that the total impact of immigrant spending could increase to $5.2 billion (in 2004 constant dollars) by 2010 if current trends continue. This spending could generate as many as 84,700 spin-off jobs, contributing $303 million to state and local taxes. If the experience of other states is any guide, however, family reunification and family formation may increase immigration's costs by changing the population composition to include a higher proportion of children.

"Though we calculate education as a fiscal cost, expenditures to educate immigrants' children are an important investment in Arkansas's future workforce that could pay substantial returns to the state through increased worker productivity and economic growth," said Donald Hernandez, a sociologist with the University at Albany.

The Immigrants in Arkansas Project

The research team included Stephen J. Appold, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Randy Capps, Urban Institute; Derrek L. Croney, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Michael E. Fix, Migration Policy Institute; Everett Henderson, Urban Institute; Donald J. Hernandez, University at Albany, State University of New York; James H. Johnson, Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and John D. Kasarda, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The project's publications, available at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?id=411441, include

  • "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas: Executive Summary," by Capps, Henderson, Kasarda, Johnson, Appold, Croney, Hernandez, and Fix;
  • "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas: Volume 1 -- Immigrant Workers, Families, and Their Children," by Capps, Henderson, Hernandez, and Fix; and
  • "A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas: Volume 2 -- Impacts on the Arkansas Economy," by Kasarda, Johnson, Appold, and Croney.

Copies of these reports will also be available on the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation web site: www.wrfoundation.org.

The report package also includes two video presentations by Matt Bradley, a videographer based in Little Rock. The first is a summary of findings from the reports. The second video, "Immigrants in Arkansas: Growing Roots in the Land of Opportunity," includes five stories about immigrants that focus on their reasons for coming to Arkansas and settling in the state. Copies of the videos can be obtained by contacting the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.


The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

Established in 1974 by the trustees of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller's estate, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is a private foundation whose mission is to improve the lives of Arkansans.

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Immigrants

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