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Immigrants account for much of Northwest Indiana's population growth

New U.S. citizens take their oaths of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in Hammond's Wolf Lake Pavilion last year. Most of Northwest Indiana's population growth is because of immigrants, a Ball State University study found.

Along with the rest of the Midwest, Indiana's population growth has generally been anemic in recent years.

Foreign-born immigrants accounted for much of the growth in Northwest Indiana and the state as a whole, according to a new study by Ball State University.

The “Fiscal, Economic, & Social Effects of Immigration in the Hoosier State” study found 25 percent of Indiana's population growth between 2000 and 2015 was due to immigration. Northwest Indiana's population of native-born residents grew by about 6% between 1990 and 2016 to 806,503 people. The population of foreign-born residents in the Region shot up by 76.4% to 44,666 over the same period, accounting for about 29% of all population growth in Northwest Indiana.

The study by Emily Wornell, a research assistant professor with the Indiana Communities Institute at Ball State, and Michael Hicks, director of the University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, found that Indiana — whose steel mills once lured immigrants from across the world — is again a new immigration destination after a period of long steady decline. The influx has helped stabilize 19 Indiana counties suffering from declining population and has been having a positive overall effect on the state's economy, according to the study's authors.

“Immigrants may represent the best chance for population growth in these communities in the foreseeable future," Wornell said. "These newcomers will bolster the local job markets, fill up classrooms, and become contributing members to our communities.”

Statewide, immigrants are most likely to hail from Mexico, India, China, the Philippines or Myanmar. They have kept the state's population moving in a positive direction at a time when the country's population has largely been shifting from the deindustrializing heartland to the Sun Belt and the coasts.

“Immigration in Indiana is fiscally, educationally and demographically important, and likely marks an environment of increasing economic opportunity,” Wornell said. “Overall, we find that immigration, regardless of authorization status, is an important source of fiscal, economic, and demographic health for Indiana’s future.”

Most of the Region's immigrants hail from Latin America, followed by Europe and Asia, the study found. About 30% of the foreign-born population over the age of 25 has less than a high school diploma but about 30% has earned a college degree or higher, which is higher than the 24% of native-born residents with that degree of educational attainment.

About 15.8% of foreign-born residents had attained graduate degrees, as compared to 8.5% of native-born Hoosiers, according to the study.

The study found immigration had no impact on wages of those who have worked at the same job for more than 90 days, but caused a modest decline for new hires. It found immigrants pay into the government's public service system through income, payroll, sales and property taxes, and tend to use fewer services than native-born residents. It found in Indiana that immigrants contribute more to funding welfare than they receive from public assistance programs.

“Based on our analysis, it is clear that immigration into Indiana, including unauthorized immigrants, is a net benefit to the state and should be welcomed in every county and municipality,” Hicks said. “At the same time, we acknowledge that there may be costs to some locations and populations. However, these costs appear to be transient, affecting only starting wages for workers with a high school diploma or less. We find no long-term negative impact on wages."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.