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Refugees Have an $88 Million Economic Impact on Cuyahoga County

Refugees in church basement in Cleveland
WKSU public radio

Refugees in Cuyahoga County had an $88 million economic impact in 2016. That's according to a new study that also shows they’re more likely to have jobs and less likely to be on public assistance than the U.S.-born population and than refugees nationally. 

The report by Chmura Economics for the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland shows close to 1,100 refugees settled in the Cleveland area last year. And since 2000, more than 7,600 refugees have helped offset about 5 percent of the population drain in the city and in Cuyahoga County overall.

Eileen Wilson
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU public radio
Eileen Wilson says the refugees -- represented by the languages on her wall -- have been crucial to shoring up Cleveland.

Eileen Wilson looks around a cafeteria: “Here is Iraq and Jordan and Burma and Nepal and the Congo ….”

Wilson runs a program with a group called Building Hope in the City in a crowded church on Cleveland’s far west side. It helps refugees get acclimated, improve language skills and move toward citizenship. It started about five years ago with 25 students and now has more than 175. But she says the city benefits as much as the refugees.

“Cleveland has houses that need to be lived in, it has businesses that can be opened. It has jobs that need to be filled, it has schools that need to be filled. So it’s revitalized neighborhoods. So there’s not just a humanitarian aspect of this, there’s the economic aspect of a state that needs population.”

Jobs and businesses
The report says three out of every four refugees in the Cleveland area were employed within two years of arrival, higher than the national average of about 68 percent.

The hubbub at the church stops for a moment for announcements -- in three languages.

"Today, from 12 o'clock to 1 o'clock, there's a computer class. It is for people who are interested in maybe starting a business ..."

The report says refugee-owned businesses in Cuyahoga County paid more than $465,000 in local and state taxes and employed more than 200 people directly last year.

The largest group of refugees settled in Northeast Ohio since 2000 are Bhutanese people who were exiled to camps in Nepal before coming to the U.S.  Many have settled in the North Hill neighborhood of Akron. Though the report concentrates on Cleveland, it notes that Akron led the state last year in refugee arrivals per thousand residents.

Correction:   This article has been updated to correct grammatical errors.