President Obama 4President Obama’s popularity numbers have soared recently and it ought not to be a surprise. Despite being held back for years by the stubborn refusal of conservatives to fund an adequate stimulus effort and being far short of where it ought to be, the national economic recovery continues to advance. Better times generally produce better numbers for the President.

Here’s the other obvious factor in the President’s rising popularity with voters: he’s stopped trying to play nice with the forces of reaction. Instead of sticking to his doomed efforts to find common ground with the forces on the Right who would never agree to anything, he’s started taking the bull by the horns and giving voice to the kinds of positions that the people who elected him have long hoped for: a direct confrontation of greed and inequality, assertive immigration reform, a foreign policy that eschews serving as the world’s self-appointed police force and a renewed commitment to combating climate change.

Even for folks who may disagree with the President on some issues, his decisiveness and principled, strong leadership on these and other issues are clearly what people want and expect from him. Let’s hope the President is buoyed and emboldened by the positive public reaction to this new, more assertive leadership style and that it becomes one of the defining features of the final two years of his presidency.

NC Budget and Tax Center

We are largely a nation of immigrants, and relatively recent ones at that. Waves of immigrants have come to the United States over the past several centuries, transforming the county from a colonial backwater to the wealthiest nation on the planet.  A report just out shows how important immigrant business owners are to communities across the country. As can be seen below, immigrants are over-represented as business owners, and it turns out they make up a particularly large share of main street proprietors.

Immigrant Percentage of Workforce and Business Ownership

The role that immigrants play as local business owners tends to be overshadowed in the policy debate surrounding immigration policy in the U.S.  Amidst the talk about border security, paths to citizenship, and human rights, we tend to overlook the fact that immigrants are vital to the economic backbone of the United States, small businesses. The Fiscal Policy Institute report shows that while immigrants make up 16% of the labor force, they own 28% of the main street businesses in the U.S. In many communities, immigrants make up a larger share of small businesses owners today than they did a decade ago, which is clearly shown in the graph below. Moreover, the report underscores how important immigrant businesses can be as early instruments of community revitalization, going into neighborhoods and communities when larger firms are still hesitant to invest.

Immigrant Business Ownership in Major Cities 2000 to 2013

Here are some of the other highlights from the report:

  • Immigrants are more important to metro small business communities than ten years ago. The report shows that the share of businesses owned by people born outside the United States has gone up in virtually every major metropolitan area in the country in the last 10-15 years. This includes both Charlotte and Raleigh, which saw marked jumps in immigrant small business ownership from 2000 to 2013.
  • Immigrants are particularly likely to own very small businesses. More than 80% of businesses owned by immigrants had ten or fewer employees, compared to just over 70% for native-born business owners. Many of these immigrant businesses are in main street service sectors, like laundries, barber shops, restaurants, groceries, and travel accommodation.
  • Immigrants are less likely to use a bank loan to start their businesses. Particularly on main street, native born business owners are more likely to get bank loans while immigrants are more likely to rely on personal savings. There are a host of reasons for this, but it is a point of concern. Access to capital is the lifeblood of small business, so if immigrants find it difficult to secure startup and operating capital, communities may lose businesses that are otherwise solid, or miss out of new businesses that never got off the ground.
  • Case studies in engaging immigrant business owners show the importance of public policies in supporting the success of these entrepreneurs. The report highlights economic revitalization efforts in Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Nashville that focus on the needs of immigrant business owners.

When you take a sober look at the economic data, its clear that immigrants are essential to the economic well-being of the United States. Whatever you think about recent Executive actions, or what needs to be done about immigration policy generally, this is not an issue that we can afford to ignore. Immigrants have always been part of the U.S. economic history and, if we want to remain one of the most dynamic economic markets in the world, immigrants will be at the heart of those future stories as well.


The list is no doubt long and growing rapidly — be sure to check out this morning’s edition of the “Friday Follies” for more — but the always-entertaining (if rarely intentionally) State Senator Andrew Brock has to be a leading contender in the category of “most inane response by a North Carolina politician” when he tweeted the following this morning:


There were lots of compelling moments in the President’s speech last night on immigration policy. Especially during the moments in which he appealed to the better angels of our nature with powerful rhetoric and Biblical citations, Obama reminded us of why he can be such an inspiring figure to so many Americans. For example:

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”

What appealed most to me, however, were the moments when the President talked simple practicalities, as he did in this passage:

“But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants — in every state, of every race and nationality — will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.” (Emphasis supplied.)

He’s completely right, of course. Short of turning the U.S. into a police state, deportation of these people simply ain’t gonna happen, no matter what the xenophobes and Tea Partiers say. Indeed, it’s one of the great ironies of modern American politics Read More