April 20, 2017
presented by Cargill Risk Management
Local business professionals and supporters joined us for a light breakfast, coffee, and conversation in advance of a presentation from economist Dr. Bruce Corrie of Concordia University.
Dr. Corrie started his remarks by noting Joyce’s 100% kindergarten readiness rate, something he noted as significant for him in his role as an economist, where numbers allow him to make a broader case in the conversation about the economic value of immigrants.
Dr. Corrie posited that it’s very difficult to talk about immigrants without addressing the question of ‘Who is an American?’ The question sparks a lot of anxiety, both cultural and economic, which make it difficult to have a constructive conversation. Dr. Corrie lauded Joyce’s approach in helping children and families learn to have conversations where cultural anxiety is concerned. He noted that Joyce is “dealing with cultural anxiety in a very practical way: in a bicultural environment.”
Dr. Corrie sees the effectiveness of models like this at work in his own life. He recounted his son’s experience learning French as a second language, and a family trip to France where adults would compliment his son on his language skills — a first-hand experience validating the theories and research that lift up bilingual education as a tool for teaching children problem solving and cultural understanding. “You’re offering a model of interaction around children,” said Dr. Corrie, “and you’re teaching children how to do that.”
Dr. Corrie also talked about another type of anxiety: economic anxiety. He noted that people in Minnesota argue a lot about who pays, and and how much, and for what — and in the realm of education, sometimes about who we can exclude. But as an economist, he sees that behavior as risky, because everyone who engages in the state’s economy needs to engage fully or we’ll be outstripped by global competitors.
Another important component in understanding the economic value of immigrants is the context of history. Dr. Corrie’s research has included information from the Minnesota Historical Society, where he uncovered evidence of the systemic and repeated maltreatment of migrant workers in Minnesota’s farming economy. “We invite them to come here, and we don’t treat them well,” said Dr. Corrie. “We don’t educate their kids because they are migrant workers that move from place to place. Records show they had some of the worst living conditions in the country. And we never let them [put down] roots.”
Dr. Corrie emphasized that labeling individuals with labels like “undocumented” or “illegal” makes it difficult for our state to come to grips with its past behavior, and bear responsibility for its historical role in purposefully attracting temporary migrant workers and driving them out when they were no longer needed.
This continues to be relevant today, with what Dr. Corrie calls an impending demographic squeeze, when the percentage of working-age population plateaus and the percentage of dependents (seniors and kids) rises. Minnesota will need to fill the gap. “New immigrants. Refugees. Migrants. They are filling that gap,” said Dr. Corrie. And not only do they fill the gap, they bring benefits. Dr. Corrie acknowledges that while there is a cost, that most analysis of the economic impact of immigrants focuses exclusively on cost, leading to an incomplete understanding of the role immigrants play in the Minnesota economy — where the welfare of whole towns are built on global exports, and immigrants participate in income-generating activities such as renting apartments, purchasing property, paying taxes, and shopping.
In addition to the present, Dr. Corrie noted that programs like Joyce are important in building a better future. Economically, Dr. Corrie’s research presents the most effective approach to investment as two-pronged: targeted early childhood education investment, and support for single head of households. Without hitting these two areas, and without putting them in the context of a broader entwined economic development effort, a critical strategy or a policy is not going to be very effective. “If you want to have progress in a nation in terms of economic development, you need to have programs that deal with economic assets, the physiological environment, personal worth, and systems change,” Dr. Corrie said. “Here’s where early childhood education and the investment in kids can make a difference.”
In addition to our keynote’s remarks, attendees heard from a Joyce parent, who recounted what a big difference the preschool’s support programs made for their family. As a single parent household, Joyce worked with them to make sure they not only had scholarship support, but winter coats, information on local clinics, and help dealing with a non-responsive landlord. This spring, their child is on track to graduate ready for kindergarten, and they couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve accomplished together with the support of the Joyce community.
Thanks to our generous sponsors for their support of this event.
Cargill Risk Management