Easy to slight, refugees show their economic might


In the midst of a global refugee crisis, the Trump administration has said it plans to cut by more than half the number of refugees accepted to America each year, to fewer than 45,000.

The recent announcement came only days after the White House issued the latest version of its travel ban, severely restricting travel from eight nations. Two of those nations, Syria and Somalia, have been the source of many refugees to Northeast Ohio.

The administration cited potential crime and the need to enhance the vetting process for refugees, which already spans two years.

Meanwhile, a local analysis paints a far different portrait of refugees and their likely impact. Chmura Economics & Analytics, a Cleveland consulting firm, found that a modest public investment in resettlement—most of its supplied by the federal government—has produced an astonishingly self-sufficient group of new Clevelanders.

The economic impact study, released September 7, was commissioned by the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland and can be found on the group’s website– rsccleveland.org/

Between 2000 and 2016, the region welcomed about 7,600 refugees, many of whom had been made stateless by persecution or war. Once in Cleveland, most rebounded rather quickly. Researchers found that local refugees are more likely to be working than the general population and far less likely to be receiving public assistance.  In fact, after only two years in their new home:

  • less than 10 percent of refugees were receiving public assistance, compared to 21 percent of the general population
  • 75% of adult refugees held a job, compared to 63% of the general population

While the average income of a refugee worker is only $19,344 per year, immigrants tend to get and stay married. Area refugees enjoy a household income averaging $35,849 a year, which helps explain why they are buying houses in he city and starting businesses.

The study found that Cuyahoga County’s relatively small refugee community has started 42 businesses that, collectively, paid more than $465,000 in local and state taxes and employed more than 200 people last year.

“This is a uniquely Cleveland thing we have,” said Patrick Kearns, executive director of The Refugee Response, which provides refugees with job training and work on its Ohio City Farm.

Kearns notes that refugees who settle in Greater Cleveland tend to do better than refugees in other cities.

Joe Cimperman, the president of Global Cleveland, said their success is a credit to resettlement agencies like Catholic Charities, which handle direct resettlement, as well as to the nonprofit groups belonging to the Refugee Services Collaborative.

Groups like The Refugee Response, Building Hope in the City and Asian Services in Action, step in later to help with bewilderment, trauma, loneliness and other refugee afflictions.

And much of the credit must go to the refugees themselves, Cimperman said.

“These are people who lost everything, who often languished in refugee camps for years and even decades,” he said. “And when they get here, all they want to do is work hard and find peace and raise their children.”

He said it is cruel and callous to suddenly turn away refugees, and to cast aspersions upon their character.

“We’re not afraid of our new neighbors,” Cimperman said. “We know them and we embrace them. They are so grateful. They keep thanking us for allowing them to be Americans, when it is us who should be thanking them.”