When it comes to Africans in Minnesota, the numbers might lie - TwinCities.com
Economist Bruce Corrie has seen the official U.S. Census counts of African immigrants in Minnesota, and he doesn't believe them for a minute. Census estimates showing 111,000 people of recent African origin might as well be doubled, based on his research. The federal Survey of Business Owners and the Consumer Expenditure Surveys don't even mention the state's African business owners and customers. For anyone trying to market products to or do business with the dozens of African immigrant groups in Minnesota, that adds up to a void of information circling a deep undercount, from his perspective. His perspective is shared by any number of the state's African immigrant business and civic leaders.
"For every $1 they spend after taxes, 55 cents is on mainstream stores, 28 cents on African stores and 15 cents supporting family and relatives in Africa," Corrie said. "The money they send to Africa they do not get a tax break on, like most people making donations in this country. It is at a great personal cost, especially if they earn less than $40,000 a year." Mesfin Negia, a biology professor and vice president of the Ethiopian Community in Minnesota, hoped that Corrie's report would help dispel negative assumptions about his community. "We're not takers," said Negia, addressing the crowd at the Snelling Cafe during the recent presentation last May. "We are hard workers. Please see us as an asset." The same sentiment was shared by Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park. "We're not just a drain on the economy, a problem to be solved," he said. "We're solution makers." To get his data, Corrie's consumer surveys reached more than 500 immigrants, and a separate business survey went out to 123 business owners. To distribute surveys, get help with translation, and for research and technical assistance, he counted on the help of more than 40 community partners, from the Oromo Chamber of Commerce to the Minnesota African Women's Association. His response rate was little short of exceptional, with 402 of the consumer surveys and 113 of the business surveys fully completed. He also relied on an online exit poll from the November 2014 election, as well as a small storm of existing federal and local studies. His study raises questions about ethnic business owners oversaturating the African market with the same product rather than diversifying and exploring new goods and services. Many Asian stores sell products popular with African immigrants, as well. Another interesting statistic: More than 10 percent of survey respondents said they ran a home-based business. The study notes that is key evidence that the immigrant community would benefit from entrepreneurial education and programs for youth, such as business incubators, commercial kitchens "and other avenues to support this vibrant entrepreneurial energy." Corrie's study notes the "untapped potential" for Minnesotan exports to African countries and points out that the African community would benefit from new lending models, such as community loan pools. The study also provides insights for realtors: African immigrants represent an estimated $236 million annual rental market in Minnesota, and homeowners represented real estate values of $1.2 billion in 2012. As for Census counts, Corrie feels they're garbage-bin worthy based on his own research and education data. The U.S. Census' American Community Survey estimated the Somali population in Minnesota to be between 39,000 and 52,000 people in 2013, including foreign-born immigrants and their descendants. "Because of language barriers and concerns over the use of the survey, immigrant groups are often undercounted," said Andi Egbert, assistant director for the Minnesota State Demographic Center. "So these are likely conservative estimates, but the best we have." Community advocates say a truer estimate would land somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000. Corrie has his own estimates. The Minnesota Department of Education reports that in the 2012-2013 school year, there were nearly 15,000 Somali-speaking children in the state's K-12 public school system alone. "The Census undercounts the Somali schoolchildren by about a third," Corrie said. "So if we say the overall population could also be undercounted by a third, I would get around 50,000 (Somalis and their descendants in Minnesota), which we could call a conservative estimate." "Other African communities also report underrepresentation in census numbers," he continued. "Because of this, their access to resources and services are limited."