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Columbus Ranks Near Bottom For Economic Well-Being Of Immigrants

Downtown Columbus.

Columbus may have a growing economy and a relatively low unemployment rate, but that prosperity doesn’t necessarily translate into a high economic quality of life for the city’s immigrant residents.

That’s according to new data from Thoughtwell, the research firm formerly known as Community Research Partners. Their research ranks Columbus 46th out of the nation’s 50 largest metro areas.

The data set uses four factors related to economic well-being: immigrant entrepreneurship rate, the presence of other immigrants, household incomes compared to native households, and immigrant unemployment rates.

While Columbus doesn’t rank dead last in any single category, it doesn’t exactly excel either. The city’s best ranking came in immigrant unemployment, which stands at 5.9 percent. Compare that to the entire Columbus metro area, which in December 2017 had an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent.

When it comes to earnings, immigrant households earn 24.88 percent less than native households.

“Unfortunately, the data does not explain why,” says Thoughtwell researcher Lathania Butler. “It could be the fact that they’re new. It could also be whether they’re being compensated fully based on their qualifications.”

Columbus also has a relatively low concentration of immigrants compared to other large cities. The Thoughtwell report says immigrants represent 7.3 percent of all Columbus metro area residents. That’s lower than 37 other metro areas, but still much higher than the rates in Cincinnati (4.3 percent) and Cleveland (5.6).

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus on a "Day Without Immigrants" strike in February 2017.
Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus last February for a "Day Without Immigrants" strike.

Columbus’ worst ranking came in the entrepreneurship rate of local immigrants. Just 4.8 percent of immigrants are entrepreneurs—the same rate as Cincinnati, but slightly behind Cleveland’s rate of 5.9 percent.

The cities with the highest immigrant entrepreneurship rates tended to be in border states like California, Texas and Florida.

Thoughtwell researcher Lathania Butler, herself an immigrant from Jamaica, says she was surprised to see how Columbus compares to other large cities.

“I was very surprised," Butler says. "I love Columbus, and I was hoping that my decision to live here would not just be the fact that I love Columbus, but that economically it would a benefit to me. I was hoping to find that Columbus was at the top.”