How The Trump Administration's Sweeping Refugee Admissions Cuts Could Impact U.S. Cities And The Economy

As the Donald Trump administration continues to face backlash over its plan to lower the cap on the number of refugees to be admitted into the country, experts are warning the move could have a strong negative impact on the economy.

On Thursday, the Trump administration revealed that it was planning to lower the cap refugee admissions to 18,000, marking the lowest level since the program was launched four decades ago.

Under President Trump, the U.S. had already seen admissions plummet from the nearly 85,000 refugees that the U.S. had allowed into the country in 2016, former President Barack Obama's last year in office.

Now, with the number set to sink again to a new historic low, experts are sounding the alarm that the Trump administration's decision could see local economies, as well as the national one, take a hit.

In an interview with Newsweek, Steve Hubbard, a data scientist at New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization focused on the relationship between immigration and the economy, said he can see the Trump administration's refugee admissions cuts "having a large impact on the economy."

"Refugees contribute in many ways and in many meaningful ways to our economy as earners and as taxpayers," he said.

"In our research, we have found that, for instance, in 2015 almost 2.3 million refugees had a collective of $77 billion in household income and they contributed $20.9 billion in taxes, leaving them with $56.3 billion in disposable income for spending power," Hubbard said.

According to New American Economy's research, allowing fewer refugees into the country could negatively impact local economies, as well as the national economy, in a number of ways.

Fresh challenges for local employers

One way the cuts could negatively impact local economies, Hubbard explained, is by creating challenges for employers in cities where workers are in high demand.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, the unemployment rate is around 3 percent.

With fewer workers looking for jobs, business owners across the city, from those running farms to those in charge of construction companies, often rely on refugees to help keep business running.

However, between just 2016 and 2018, under Trump, the number of new refugee arrivals to Salt Lake City has dropped by 70 percent, creating problems for local businesses.

"In a community, you want to make sure you have workers...employers want to see that and people who work in economic development want to see that there are plenty of workers in the area, because it attracts business and entrepreneurship," Hubbard said. "With communities like Salt Lake City, they have seen a decrease in the number of new refugees arriving...and that's creating problems of finding enough workers for future ventures and for entrepreneurship and things like that."

Dollars and sense

In Hubbard's view, it should go without saying that letting fewer refugees into the country will mean fewer tax dollars collected.

According to New American Economy's data, in 2017 alone, refugee households earned more than $86.2 billion in income and paid nearly $23.3 billion in taxes. That also left them with nearly $62.9 billion in spending power, which is often invested in the local economy.

Meanwhile, also in 2017, more than 186,015 refugee entrepreneurs were living in the U.S., generating $5.6 billion in business income.

Refugees, Hubbard said, have been found to be more likely to become entrepreneurs than both other immigrants and U.S.-born Americans. In 2015, for example, 13 percent of refugees were found to be entrepreneurs, compared to just 9 percent of the U.S.-born population.

"They bring an entrepreneurial spirit that is so important to our economy because they are coming in and seeing opportunities within the United States," Hubbard said.

The impacts of depopulation

While Hubbard says allowing fewer refugees into the U.S. can have a negative impact on cities across the country, cities that are already struggling with "depopulation" are likely to be among the hardest hit.

In cities like Buffalo, New York, for example, the struggle to maintain population numbers has led to fewer tax dollars, fewer jobs and slower industry growth.

While Buffalo has been known as one of the top 10 U.S. cities to see refugees resettle since 2002, between 2009 and 2017, the city's population fell by 4.3 percent.

Had it not been for the 10,102 refugees who were resettled in the city over that period, Hubbard said, Buffalo would have felt the impact of the loss even more.

"When we see a decline like that within a community, [we see] fewer tax dollars coming into the local community, you have fewer job opportunities and you won't see entrepreneurial growth when there's a decline in population," Hubbard said. "Those are things you need for cities to thrive," he said. "You need, at the city level, tax dollars coming in and refugees contribute when they are working just like anybody else."

Statue of Liberty
The full Harvest Moon rises behind the Statue of Liberty in New York City on September 13, 2019 as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. The Statue of Liberty has long served as a beacon of hope for refugees hoping to find refuge in the U.S. However, with the Trump administration vowing to slash refugee resettlement admissions to a new historic low, those hopes are likely diminishing. Gary Hershorn/Getty
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