The Changing Face of Massachusetts is a joint project of MassINC and the Center for Labor Market Studies and was made possible by the generous support of a number of sponsors, including the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Verizon, Citizens Bank, Polaroid, and Bank of America’s Frank W. and Carl S. Adams Memorial Fund.
The demographics of Massachusetts are changing, and they are changing rapidly. As of 2004, one in seven Massachusetts residents was born in another country. The impact of immigrants on the Massachusetts economy is significant. Over the last 25 years, the share of immigrants in our workforce has nearly doubled. Today, 17 percent of our workforce are immigrants – up from roughly 9 percent in 1980.
There has also been a major shift in the countries of origin among immigrants arriving in Massachusetts. Nearly half of all new immigrants hail from Latin American and the Caribbean, and another 23 percent come from Asia. Between 2000 and 2003, nearly 1 out of every 5 immigrants entering the state was Brazilian.
Increasingly, immigrants are coming from countries where English is not the primary language. Since 1980 the number of immigrants with limited English-speaking skills has increased from 17.5 percent to 21.5 percent. The ability to speak English proficiently has become a dividing line, separating those who succeed from those who struggle in the labor market.
Immigrants with limited English skills are clustered in the state’s larger cities. In some cities, such as Lawrence and New Bedford, a substantial portion of the city’s overall population does not speak English at all or does not speak it well. These facts add up to a serious human capital challenge for local leaders and our state as a whole.
As the state’s future economic health is increasingly linked to the education and skills of immigrants, everyone has a stake in addressing the challenges uncovered in this research. The long-term civic and economic health of our state depends on our success in meeting these challenges.