In 1990 immigrants made up 1.1% of South Dakota’s total population. That percentage grew to 1.8% in 2000, and to 2.7% in 2010.
The figures below compare the share of the immigrant population in South Dakota compared with other states in the Midwest, and the growth of that population between 1990 and 2010. The state stands out in the region for having one of the lowest percentages of immigrants in 2010: 2.7%.
The foreign-born population in South Dakota grew by 188% between 1990 and 2010.
On August 1, 2011, Jai Prasad Sunuwar arrived in South Dakota and became the 50,000th Bhutanese refugee to be resettled from Nepal. Mr. Sunuwar’s resettlement marks a new high point in a concerted effort by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United States, and several other countries to stem a looming humanitarian crisis. Bhutanese refugees, largely of Nepali-Lhotshampa ethnic origin, have lived a meager existence in the Nepalese border region for several decades following a series of forced expulsions carried out by the Bhutanese government. As a Nepali-speaking minority, the Lhotshampa were perceived by the government to be a threat to Bhutanese sovereignty and an obstacle in a national campaign to create an ethnically homogenous society.
As the population of the refugee camps along the border became unsustainable and living conditions deteriorated, the UNCHR launched a special program intended to expedite the resettlement process. A key partner in this effort, the United States has resettled around 42,000 Bhutanese refugees since 2007, with several hundred arriving in South Dakota.
Though small compared to other states in the region, South Dakota is home to a growing refugee population. Since FY 2000, the state has taken in 3,781 refugees from 34 different countries. In terms of country of origin, the majority of refugees to come to the state in the past decade are from: Somalia (606); Sudan (462); Bhutan (434); Burma (404); and the former Yugoslavia (262). The fastest growing national origin groups are Bhutan and Burma. On average, 6 asylees also settle in the South Dakota each year. As of 2010, refugees constituted roughly 15% of South Dakota’s total foreign born population.
The city of Sioux Falls is the main hub for refugee arrivals to South Dakota. In fact, refugees constitute the majority of the city’s foreign-born population. It is also the home of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, a local affiliate of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the primary resettlement agency operating in the state.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the proportion of undocumented immigrants, as a share of the total population of South Dakota, has increased 42% between 1990 and 2010, though the proportion of undocumented persons remains very small. The source of these data is the U.S. Census Bureau’s March Current Population Surveys.” 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 South Dakota among the 12 Midwestern states and the United States.
An examination of data on all of the immigrants living in metropolitan areas in South Dakota demonstrates that the majority (61.5%) live in Sioux Falls. The Rapid City metropolitan areas saw its share of Foreign-born residents decrease from 17% to 6% between 2000 and 2010.
In South Dakota, and across the region, in 2010 a larger percentage of immigrants (62%) than US-born residents (54%) were currently married. Not surprisingly, the total household size of the foreign-born was also larger—3 individuals, compared with 2.4 for the native-born. Household members can be either relatives, or unrelated individuals.
As with its sister-state to the north, South Dakota has experienced sharp declines in population over the last century, particularly in rural areas. As changes in the agricultural economy made independent farming more difficult, young people began to decamp to Sioux Falls and Rapid City, or metropolitan areas outside of the state. Yet for the most part, new immigrants did come to South Dakota to fill the vacated rural jobs. This has left the state with an aging and sharply declining population.
South Dakota does not have any substantial foreign-born populations. As of 2009, less than 3 percent of the state’s total population was born outside of the United States. Mexican immigrants account for the greatest percentage of foreign-born residents, followed by East Africans and Germans.
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 US. 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 South Dakota 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 South Dakota 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).
Some kinds of demographic and socio-economic data are only available for racial/ethnic groups, rather than for immigrants. In the absence of data on such measures as home or business ownership among immigrant groups it may be of interest to compare these measures for Hispanics of Asians with the important caveat that the comparisons include a majority of native-born residents.
In 2010 Asians constituted 0.9% of the population in South Dakota, and owned a similar percentage of businesses in the state (0.6%). In contrast, the proportion of Hispanic-owned and Black-owned businesses were much less than their share of the population.
Although the percentages of South Dakota businesses owned by U.S.- or foreign-born Asians and Hispanics are small, they account for 452 and 595 firms respectively. The positive impact of immigrant integration into the business sector in South Dakota is additionally indicated by the fact that in 2007 immigrant businesses had combined sales and receipts of $521 million in South Dakota, and employed 4,043 workers.
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 26%. Of the entire Asian population in South Dakota, 55% were homeowners.
Immigrants in South Dakota, 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 South Dakota, 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 South Dakota in the 2007-2008 school year (4%) was over over three times that of White students (1.4%), one-and-a-half times as high as that of Black students (2.4%) and twice as high as the dropout rate for Asian students (2%).
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 South Dakota 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 10% in math and 3% 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 81% of immigrants spoke English well, very well or fluently.
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 South Dakota, 7% 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).
As would be expected, the children of immigrants in South Dakota 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 South Dakota 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 South Dakota 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 South Dakota, 41% of all immigrants were naturalized citizens in 2010. Of immigrants in South Dakota who entered the United States before 1980, 78% were citizens in 2009, nearly the same as the national average (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 South Dakota and in the other eleven Midwest states in 2010.
In the 2008 elections, 1.3% of registered voters in South Dakota 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 17% from 2000-2006, and that 91% of children with immigrant parents in South Dakota were U.S. citizens in 2009.
As of 2012, however, representation of ethnic minorities among elected officials in South Dakota remains disproportionately low relative to their share of the population; while 1% of the total population is Asian, 3% is Hispanic and 1.3% is Black/African American, there are no state legislators who represent these groups.
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 South Dakota were interracial or interethnic. While lower than the national average of 15%, this figure is nearly equal to the Midwest average of 11%.
Eight immigration-related bills have been enacted in South Dakota since 2008. A few key bills are described below:
2010 – Birth Certificate Reissuance for Adoptions (SD H 1079). In order to issue a new birth certificate in an adoption of a foreign-born child, proof of the child’s immigration status must be provided.
2010 – Commercial Drivers License (SD H 1107). This bill requires documentation of legal presence in order to renew a nonresident commercial drivers license.
2010 – Federal Law Enforcement Officer (SD H 1260). The definition of federal law enforcement is expanded to include any officer or employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Marshall Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Protective Service, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations, and the National Park Service.
2009 – Drivers Licensing Provisions (SD S 17). This bill clarifies the definition of lawful status and requires documentation of lawful status to obtain a drivers license or state issued identification card.
SD S 32 (2011). Sex Offender Registration Regulations. The immigration documents of sex offenders must be registered with the state.
According to the National Council of La Raza, an Arizona-style law enforcement bill was introduced in South Dakota in 2011, but was rejected or refused consideration.
Immigrant workers in South Dakota make up a smaller percentage of the labor force than in the US as a whole.
The top industries employing immigrants and U.S.-born workers in South Dakota in the state are similar, although foreign-born workers are more likely to work in manufacturing and construction, and are not heavily employed in retail trade.
South Dakota had a lower state-wide unemployment rate in January of 2011 than nine other states in the Midwest.
In spite of the recession, demand for immigrant workers has continued, and the percentage of foreign-born civilian workers increased by 63% in South Dakota, compared to 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 South Dakota grew while the native-born labor force decreased over the period from 1990 to 2010.
South Dakota has a very small, but 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.
M. Michael “Mike” Rounds served five terms in the South Dakota State Senate. In 1995, he was chosen by his peers to serve as Senate Majority Leader, a post he held for six years. Rounds was sworn-in as South Dakota’s 31st governor in 2003, and re-elected in 2006. As Governor, Rounds was committed to growing South Dakota’s economy, improving the daily lives of South Dakota citizens, and providing opportunities for young people to stay in South Dakota. Since completing his second term in office, he has returned to his insurance and real estate business.
Public Program by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Illinois Business Immigration Council (IBIC) launched April 1, 2013, at the Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Moderated by Niala Boodhoo, WBEZ business reporter, and hosted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Moderated by Samuel Scott III, Retired Chairman, President and CEO, Corn Products International and Chairman of the Board, Chicago Sister Cities International.