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A View from Ohio

Demographic Trends and Data


In 1990 immigrants made up 2.4% of Ohio’s total population. That percentage grew to 3% in 2000, and to 4% in 2010.

The figures below compare the share of the immigrant population in Ohio compared with other states in the Midwest, and the growth of that population between 1990 and 2010.

The foreign-born population in Ohio grew by 81% between 1990 and 2010.  This was one of the lowest increases in the Midwest region.



Ohio is popular resettlement location for refugees. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2000, it has accepted 17,473 refugees from 50 countries. On average, an additional 251 immigrants receive asylee status in the state each year. By country of origin, the largest refugee communities in the state hail from Somalia (6,061), Bhutan (2,160), the former USSR (1,981), the former Yugoslavia (1, 387), Burma (1,381), and Iraq (1,231). In recent years, the fastest growing refugee communities in the state include the Nepali-Bhutanese and ethnic Karen and Chin from Burma. While not among the largest communities in Ohio, the flow of Sudanese refugees into the state has remained steady for much of the past decade. Annual arrivals from the former USSR and Yugoslavia have declined steadily since 2000. As of FY 2010, refugees made up roughly 3.3% of Ohio’s total foreign born population.

Refugee communities in Ohio tend to concentrate in urban areas, principally Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, and Dayton. Principal resettlement agencies in the state include: Catholic Charities Health and Human Services (Cleveland); Catholic Charities of the Miami Valley (Dayton); Catholic Social Service of Southwestern Ohio (Cincinnati); Community Refugee and Immigration Services (Columbus); International Institute of Akron; and The International Services Center (Cleveland).

While Ohio has welcomed refugees from across the globe, its large Somali population is among its most unique features. Following the disintegration of the government of Siad Barre in 1991, a long succession of civil conflicts, foreign invasions, severe flooding and famine have forced thousands of Somalis to flee their homeland and seek refuge in countries around the world. After spending time in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen, many Somali refugees eventually made their way to the American Midwest. Today, Ohio hosts the second largest Somali population in the country, second only to Minnesota.

The bulk of the Somali community in Ohio is concentrated in Franklin County, in or around the city of Columbus. Though estimates vary, Columbus is estimated to be home to around 30,000 Somalis. While Columbus has acted as a primary resettlement hub for Somali refugees since 1995, it has also become a significant hub for secondary migration of Somali refugees in North America due to its close ties with similar communities in Toronto, Atlanta, and elsewhere. According to one study, of 28 Somalis interviewed, only 5 originally resettled in Columbus. However, in recent years significant numbers of Somalis also have expanded outwards to smaller Ohio cities such as Dayton and Toledo.



The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the proportion of undocumented immigrants, as a share of the total population of Ohio, has increased 900% between 1990 and 2010, though the proportion of undocumented persons remains very small. It is important to emphasize that these numbers are only broad estimates. The actual numbers may be quite different. The figure below compares the estimated percent of the total population that is undocumented in Ohio among the 12 Midwestern states and the United States. In Ohio the percentage is close to zero.


Seventeen percent of the population in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati suburbs were foreign-born in 2010, compared with 5% of urban and less than 2% of rural residents.


In Ohio, and across the region, in 2010 a larger percentage of immigrants (62%) than US-born residents (48%) were currently married. Not surprisingly, the total household size of the foreign-born was also larger—2.9 individuals, compared with 2.5 for the native-born. Household members can be either relatives, or unrelated individuals.


Immigration History

American independence and the attendant withdrawal of the land expansion ban of 1763 rapidly transformed the ethnic makeup of the territory that was to become the state of Ohio from exclusively Native American to a mélange of Native and European peoples. The first permanent American colony in the territory was Marietta, an island on the Ohio River, founded in 1788 by settlers from the Massachusetts colony. This was followed by an influx of migrants from Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania comprised largely of second- and third-generation Scotch-Irish. The first true immigrant group (i.e., composed of people born beyond the nascent borders of the new nation) to settle in the Ohio territory was 600 French who had fallen victim to a land scheme in their native country. The colony they founded on the Ohio River in 1790, called Gallipolis, continued to draw immigrants from France well into the 20th century.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banning slavery north of the Ohio River made it unlikely that Ohio and longitudinally similar territories would have sizable African-born populations during the early post-colonial period. While the absence of slave labor may have dissuaded some groups to settle in the region, it appears to have encouraged others. Following the War of 1812, Amish and Mennonite migrants from the Pennsylvania colony began arriving in Ohio. Most were of German stock, and spoke a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 16,000 Ohio residents still speak the language at home.

People emigrating directly from Germany began arriving in Ohio following the German revolutions of 1830 and 1848. By 1850, German immigrants made up 5.6 percent of the state’s population, greater than either the British or Irish, and 23 percent of Cincinnati’s population, which at the time was Ohio’s most populous city. Other European immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, began arriving soon after.

The end of the 20th century brought the first significant wave of non-European immigrants to Ohio. Most of these immigrants were from Latin America. Since the turn of the century, the foreign-born population of the state has grown substantially more diverse. However, as of 2010, Latino immigrants still accounted for more than a fifth of Ohio’s total foreign-born population. More than half of these Latino immigrants were from Mexico. Asians are now the largest immigrant group in the state, accounting for 36.6 percent of all foreign-born residents, followed by Europeans at 28.1 percent. African immigrants make up 10.1 percent of the foreign-born population.


In its simplest form, ‘immigrant assimilation’ refers to a process whereby, over time, immigrants become indistinguishable from native-born residents. This process is neither one-way, nor linear, and not all changes lead to improved status. It also ignores the myriad ways in which native-born residents are influenced by immigrants.

To the general public two of the most visible markers of assimilation are language proficiency and socio-economic status. Clusters of poor, ethnically or racially distinct foreign-born residents with low levels of schooling and English proficiency perpetuate perceptions of difference and foster the impression that contemporary immigrants are not assimilating as quickly as white Europeans who came to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, such perceptions are rarely accompanied by analyses of barriers to assimilation, or support for programs that might accelerate the integration of new immigrants.

Differences in such measures as English language ability, home ownership and income depend upon much more than whether an individual was born outside or inside of the U.S. There are important differences in the ease of assimilation that depend upon the age and skill level that an immigrant has when he or she enters the country, and the kinds of opportunities that are available after arrival. It is important to keep these factors in mind when comparing the experiences of immigrants in various states or regions of the U.S.


The general public often perceives immigrants to be concentrated in low-level jobs, but in actuality immigrant workers are fairly well dispersed across the skills spectrum; the most rapid growth in the employment of immigrants since 2000 has been in middle-skilled jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree. However the greatest increase in projected numbers of new jobs are in those that require low-levels of education and training. Between 1990 and 2006 the share of immigrant workers in each of the four employment sectors increased dramatically and outpaced the increase in native-born workers’ jobs in rate of increase, but not in absolute numbers, with the exception of construction.

Median earnings for the foreign-born and native-born in Ohio are shown below for 2010, and then median earnings of the foreign-born are further stratified by period of entry. It can be noted that the foreign-born who arrived in the earlier waves before 1990, or between 1990 and 2000, have higher median earnings than those who have arrived more recently.


In 2006, 46% of foreign-born workers earned “family-sustaining wages,” compared to 59% of native-born workers. The percentages of foreign-born and native-born living below 100% of the Poverty Level in Ohio are shown below for 2010.

One indication of assimilation over time is that the poverty rate for naturalized citizens was considerably lower than that for non-citizens, and even lower than that for native-born citizens. Because immigrants must be legal permanent residents for at least five years before naturalizing, the income difference may indicate that incomes are improving over time. It could also be the result of a “self selection” effect, whereby those individuals who elect to become citizens, and who learn enough English and civics to pass the citizenship test are also those who will achieve some economic success. It is likely that both factors are at work.

Immigrants who were born in Asia and Europe had considerably higher mean incomes than those born in Latin America (not shown).

Business ownership is most often reported for different racial/ethnic groups, rather than for immigrants and non-immigrants. In 2010 Asians constituted 1.7% of the population in Ohio, and owned a similar percentage of businesses in the state (2%). In contrast, the proportion of Hispanic-owned businesses were much less than their share of the population.


Although the percentages of Ohio businesses owned by U.S.- or foreign-born Asians and Hispanics are small, they account for 18,198 and 9,722 firms respectively. The positive impact of immigrant integration into the business sector in Ohio is additionally indicated by 2007 combined sales and receipts of $9.1 billion, and combined employment of 63,000.


Asians and Hispanics/Latinos have rates of home ownership that are similar to those in other Midwest states. In the 2007 American Community Survey, the percentage of all Hispanics (foreign-born and native-born) who were homeowners was 32%. Of the entire Asian population in Ohio, 55% were homeowners.


Immigrants in Ohio, and throughout the Midwest, had both higher and lower levels of education than native-born residents in 2010. By this we mean that they were both much more likely to have less than a high school diploma, and slightly more likely to have a graduate or professional degree. Educational attainment is a very important dimension of integration, as it is strongly related to other dimensions of integration such as income and English language proficiency. Nationally and in the Midwest, the children of immigrants tend to achieve higher levels of education than their parents, although Caucasian and Asian youth go further in school than do Hispanics (or African Americans, few of whom are foreign-born).

In Ohio, graduation rates were lower for Hispanic students (foreign-born and native-born combined) than for their Caucasian and Asian peers.

Similarly, the Hispanic dropout rate in Ohio in the 2007-2008 school year (8.5%) was nearly three times that of White students (2.9%) and nearly five times the rate for Asian students (1.8%).

State testing data has come under scrutiny in recent years because of the connection between measures of student performance and federal funding levels. However, if the data can be believed, state tests in Ohio leave some room for optimism regarding improved student performance. According to the U.S. Department of Education, grade 8 students from all racial and ethnic groups demonstrated improved scores on state assessments of math and reading between 2004-05 and 2009-10, with an all-student increase of 6% in math and 7% in reading. The scores for Hispanic students went up at higher rates than these state-wide averages.


Despite the challenges facing Hispanic students, national data show that second generation immigrants exceed their parents’ education levels.

Higher educational attainment among members of the second-generation is not specific to Mexicans; it is consistent across all immigrant groups.


English Proficiency is collected by self-report in the Census and American Community Survey. Respondents can respond that they do not speak English, speak English only, or speak another language in addition to English. This final group is then divided further as they indicate how well they speak English as either “Very well,” “Well,” or “Not well.” The chart below compares English Proficiency in the foreign-born population, showing the percent of the foreign-born who identified themselves as speaking English “Well,” “Very Well,” or as their native/only language. There was a slight increase in the percentage of those speaking English well or better from 2000 to 2010 that is not significant; small levels of change may be due to sampling error; larger differences are likely be due to a combination of English language learning by foreign-born over time and higher English proficiency levels of more recent immigrants.

In 2010 84% of immigrants spoke English well, very well or fluently. This was on the high end of the spectrum of states in the Midwest, perhaps because of differences in the makeup of the foreign-born population or recency of arrival. Another factor in English ability may be the availability of programs for limited proficiency adults.

Levels of English language learning vary significantly within and between immigrant groups. More important than country of origin is the age at which an individual entered the US, and his or her level of education and literacy in their native language. In Ohio, 6% of the total state population spoke a language other than English at home in 2010, and 2% of the total population spoke English less than very well. One percent of households were linguistically isolated (meaning that all members of the household age 14 and over were limited English proficient).

The percentage of foreign-born residents who are limited English proficient (LEP) has remained relatively high over the years.

As would be expected, the children of immigrants in speak English at a much higher average rate than the total population of foreign-born in the state.


Similarly, immigrants who have naturalized as U.S. citizens (and who are likely to have been in the country longer) have lower rates of LEP than noncitizens.


Linguistic integration, like other measures of integration, varies among different immigrant groups. Among the foreign-born ages 5 and older in Ohio in 2009, those who spoke Spanish at home had the highest percent LEP, compared to speakers of Asian and Pacific, Indo-European, or other languages at home.

Though Hispanics in Ohio and across the Midwest are more likely to be LEP than other groups, national data show that, in comparison to predominantly white, European immigrants from the early 20th Century, contemporary Hispanic and Latino immigrants learn English at faster rates within the first five years of arrival in the United States. The same is true for the population of immigrants who arrived in the country between 1980 and 2000.


One of the clearest measures of integration is the rate at which immigrants become naturalized citizens of the United States. Naturalization not only means becoming an American citizen, but generally also requires a modest demonstration of knowledge of American civics, history and basic English language skills. In Ohio, 49% of all immigrants were naturalized citizens in 2010. Of immigrants in Ohio who entered the United States before 1980, 85% were citizens in 2009, higher than the national average of 79%.

Not surprisingly, immigrants who have been in the country the longest are most likely to naturalize.

The figure below compares the percent of naturalized citizens in Ohio and in the other eleven Midwest states in 2010.


In the 2008 elections, 3% of registered voters in Ohio were naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants. This proportion of the voting population is bound to rise, considering that the foreign-born voting-eligible population increased by 13% from 2000-2006, and that 85% of children with immigrant parents in Ohio were U.S. citizens in 2009.

As of 2012, however, representation of ethnic minorities among elected officials in Ohio remains disproportionately low relative to their share of the population; while 3% of the total population is Hispanic, only 2% of state legislators are ethnically Hispanic, and no state legislators are Asian, though Asians represent 2% of the total population.


Tomas Jiminez explained the value of intermarriage as an indication of integration by saying, “When individuals marry each other without regard to ethno-racial or national origin, it indicates that the social boundaries between groups are highly permeable.” Jiminez also highlighted the interconnection of various integration measures by pointing out that intermarriage rates are determined, in part, by English language acquisition and socioeconomic status, which shape opportunities to interact with those of different ethnic or national origins.

Data on inter-marriages between immigrants and native-born residents is not available, but between 2008 and 2010, 10% of all marriages in Ohio were interracial or interethnic. While lower than the national average of 15%, this figure is nearly equal to the Midwest (11%).



Immigration has been a more active issue in Ohio before 2008. Only 2 bills have been passed since then, and both were vetoed.


According to the National Council of La Raza, an Arizona-style law enforcement bill was still under consideration by the Ohio legislature, as of the end of 2011.

2010 – OH S 181. State Government. This bill was also line-item vetoed by the governor. It would have required the state to separately report the academic performance of migrant students from the general population of students in Ohio.

2009 – 2009-2010 Operating Appropriations (OH H 1). This budget bill included a provision that set deposit rules for cash assistance programs, including the Refugee Assistance Program. The provision was line-item vetoed by the governor.

Labor Force Data


The proportion of immigrants in the US labor force almost doubled between 1990 and 2010—from 9 to 16 percent, at a time when the percentage of native-born workers decreased from 91 to 84%. Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it grew at a rate that was seven times faster rate than that for the native-born workforce.

Forty percent of immigrant workers in Ohio were born in Asia, a quarter are from Europe and 21% are from Latin America.

Immigrant workers in the state make up a smaller percentage of the labor force than in the U.S. as a whole.

The top industries employing immigrants and U.S.-born workers in Ohio in the state are similar, although foreign-born workers are more likely to work in professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management, and are not heavily employed in retail trade.

Ohio had a higher state-wide unemployment rate in January of 2011 than nine other states in the Midwest; immigrants in the construction industry (not shown) were particularly hard-hit.

In spite of the recession, demand for immigrant workers continued, and the percentage of foreign-born civilian workers increased by 31% in Ohio and by 40% nationally from 2000-2009. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increased need for workers in a variety of high-skilled and low-skilled occupations, several of which have a shortage of U.S.-born workers.

Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it is growing at a much faster rate than the native-born workforce.

The foreign-born workforce in the Ohio grew while the native-born labor force decreased over the period from 1990 to 2010.



Ohio has a small and slow-growing foreign-born population.  Increases in the foreign-born work force are key to the future prosperity of the state and the Midwest region.

The most dramatic demographic shift in the United States today is the aging of the population—a development that increases the tax burden on young workers who make payroll contributions to cover the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Aging has been accelerated by the out-migration of young native-born workers, a phenomenon that Rogerson and Kim aptly call “the emptying of the Bread Basket of its breadwinners.” A steady influx of immigrant workers is essential to maintaining a young and productive work force.

Who's Involved

  • Frank Douglas, President and CEO, Austen BioInnovation Institute

    Frank Douglas is University Professor in the College of Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Akron, Professor of Integrated Medical Sciences at Northeast Ohio Medical University, member of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and senior partner emeritus of PureTech Ventures. Douglas currently is the national chairman of the Value-driven Engineering and U.S. Global Competitiveness Initiative. Douglas is the recipient of the 2007 Black History Makers Award and has been honored twice as the Global Pharmaceutical R&D Director of the Year, in recognition of his leadership and success in improving innovation and productivity in pharmaceutical companies. 

  • Jose C. Feliciano, Partner, Baker & Hostetler, Chairman, Hispanic Roundtable

    José C. Feliciano is a litigation partner in the law firm of Baker & Hostetler in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an active trial lawyer and has more than 36 years’ experience in complex commercial litigation.  Mr. Feliciano is the founder and Chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable, a leadership organization which empowers and sets the agenda for the Hispanic community in Northeast Ohio. He is founder and past chairman of the Hispanic Community Forum, and founder and former chairman of the Hispanic Leadership Development Program. Mr. Feliciano is past President of the Cleveland Bar Association (one of the largest local bar associations in the United States). 



  • Thomas Adler – Senior Advisor, Playhouse Square Real Estate Services
  • George S. Barrett – Chairman & CEO, Cardinal Health
  • Mayor David J. Berger – Mayor, City of Lima, Ohio
  • Luanne Bole-Becker – Special Projects Director, Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland
  • Glenn R. Brown – Former president, Generations Foundation
  • George C. Burke – International Education Consultant, Cleveland State University
  • Diana Centeno-Gomez – Vice President, Latina, Inc.
  • Toni K. Chandler – Executive Producer, Metamorphosis Productions, Inc.
  • Joseph W. Cole, II – Executive Director, TIE Ohio
  • Mayor John Cranley – Mayor, City of Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Richard A. Crepage – Advisory Council Member, Global Cleveland
  • Jessica P. Davis – Davis Industrial Services
  • Claire Ernst – Office Manager, Farm Labor Organizing Committee
  • David Fleshler – Associate Provost for International Affairs, Case Western Reserve University
  • Luis A. Gomez – President, Hispanic UMADAOP
  • Jeannette Grasselli Brown – Community Leader, Global Cleveland
  • Anne Hill – Manager of Local Government and Community Relations, Metro Health
  • Michael Jolic – Attorney, Sharon and Kalnoki, LLC
  • Kenneth Lehman – Managing Director, KKP Group LLC
  • Kay Lipovsky – Office Director, World Relief Columbus
  • Joe Lopez – President, Aster Elements, Inc.
  • Mary Susan Lyon – Assets Group, Junior League
  • Jo Anne Lyon – General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church
  • Giovanni Piedmonte – Chairman, Cleveland Clinic
  • Michael J. Rendon – Attorney, Michael J. Rendon, LLC
  • Katherine Rockman – DDS, Assets Group, Junior League
  • Meran Rogers – Director of Community Affairs, Global Cleveland
  • Bob Rosing – President and CEO, Dwellworks
  • Carl Ruby – Executive Director, Welcome Springfield and Midwest Consortium for Immigration Research
  • Alan Schonberg – Global Cleveland
  • Michael Sharon – Attorney, Sharon and Kalnoki, LLC
  • Thomas J. Wahlrab – Principle Facilitator, Welcome Dayton
  • Mayor Nan Whaley – Mayor of the City of Dayton, Ohio
  • Eileen Wilson – Director of Refugee Ministries, Building Hope in the City
  • Margaret W. Wong, Esq. – Managing Partner and President, Margaret W. Wong & Associates

State Events

To engage a broad community of Midwesterners in a conversation about immigration the “Task Force on Immigration and U.S. Economic Competitiveness: A View from the Midwest” has gone on the road to learn more about the immigrant communities throughout the region. The forums highlighted how immigrants contribute to local economies and the integration challenges local communities are facing, among other issues. 8 forums were held in the late summer and early fall. Local leaders participated. The diverse canvas of immigrant communities and local issues was put on full display.

A View From Cleveland

In partnership with the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Global Cleveland.