Let’s welcome new Vermonters
Welcoming refugees could solve a lot of problems worrying Vermont policy makers.
Declining enrollment in schools? Check.
Sluggish economic growth? Check.
Aging population? Check.
Stagnant population growth? Check.
Lack of diversity in many Vermont communities? Check.
A new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress confirms what many immigrant advocates have long believed: Rather than being a burden on communities, refugees contribute positively to local and state economies. They expand the labor force, pay taxes, increase enrollment in schools, and open businesses that employ others. And it doesn’t take long. Many are employed in a matter of months, and within 10 years, are virtually indistinguishable from the U.S.-born population in rates of home ownership, business ownership, and high school graduation rates for those arriving as children.
The report focused on four of the largest refugee populations in the U.S.: Bosnian, Hmong, Somali, and Burmese. Each group faced different circumstances that drove them from their homeland as well as wait times and conditions before resettlement. But researchers found a common trend across all the groups: They took advantage of the opportunity for a new start. They became employed quickly, opened businesses, steadily improved their English, and worked their way to better wages over time.
Some states have taken public stands against welcoming families displaced by foreign conflict. And right here in Vermont, Rutland mayor Chris Louras has gotten some push-back to his plan to welcome 100 Syrian refugees to the city. While some have suggested that more students in the city system would drive up Rutland’s school taxes, in fact, these students would be filling empty seats, which would drive down per-pupil spending and, therefore, school tax rates.
Since the 2005-06 school year, the number of students enrolled in Rutland has dropped by 22 percent. And according to Mayor Louras, there are plenty of entry-level jobs available.
Besides being the right thing to do for refugee families in desperate need, the mayor’s plan is a sensible prescription for any Vermont community in need of more kids in its classrooms and more consumers to boost the local economy.
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