Bringing the Economy Home

The Recession and its Effects on Refugee Resettlement

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Tomorrow's story centers on Nowela Virginie, who came to Boise three years ago after spending much of her life in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

Idaho residents know well the reversal of fortune the state has seen since the start of the recession.  The state, which not so long ago had the fastest growing economy in the nation, has been hit hard.  In a broadcast story tomorrow, we’ll look at how Idaho’s economic troubles have affected the state’s refugee population, focusing in on a particular family.

First, a little background.  How many refugees are resettled in Idaho each year?  Here are the numbers, according the the Idaho Office for Refugees, which has statewide responsibility for providing assistance and services for refugees.

Source: Idaho Office for Refugees

Below are the available employment statistics.  In 2005, 95 percent of the Idaho Office for Refugees’ employable caseload found work, a rate IOR Director Jan Reeves calls “the high-end baseline” for the years preceding the recession.  By 2007, the employment rate had dipped.  (It’s important to note that these numbers reflect the success of those who are receiving assistance from refugee service providers.  These percentages do not represent the employment success of all refugees in the state.)

[spreadsheet key=”0AtNHLtezDs_XdHZIUDllQmxRUmVSSEZmUGotVlV1VXc” source=”Idaho Office for Refugees” sheet=0 filter=0 paginate=0 sortable=0]

Looking at the top table, it’s easy to see that 2008, 2009 and 2010 stand out for the relatively large numbers of refugees coming to Idaho.  Reeves says those numbers were based on assessments of the state’s capacity to resettle refugees.  Why did the numbers go up even as employment opportunities became scarcer?  “The projections come out in advance of the year,” he says, “so the numbers were determined, really, before the full extent of the recession was known.”

Moreover, he says, deciding to reduce the number of refugees that will be resettled in a particular community is not an easy call.  Incoming refugees want to join family members who arrived in the U.S. before them.  And, as International Rescue Committee Vice President Bob Carey points out, it’s important to keep in mind why refugees come to the U.S. in the first place.  “Refugees are coming here for protection,” he says.  “Part of the protection is long-term economic well-being, but it’s not as though refugees are being admitted to the United States for employment or economic purposes, as important as that is.  They’re here because they have no options.”

Tomorrow’s story will air during Morning Edition on KBSX News 91.5,  you’ll also be able to listen to the story on our blog.


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