November 9, 2015

SAVING THEM FROM THEMSELVES:

Maine's Somalis Could Be Its Saviors (James Gibney, 11/09/15, Bloomberg View)

Lewiston's Somalis first began showing up in 2001. Originally refugees who settled near Atlanta, many moved to Maine. In a 2011 survey, the most common reason they gave for the northward trek was to improve their quality of life -- not just affordable housing, but safety, good schools, and the increased social control that came with living in a smaller community. Maine's relatively generous welfare system also played a part -- but other Somalis moved from states with more generous benefits.

When they arrived, they found a city back on its heels. Lewiston's population had dropped by 10 percent in the 1990s, its downtown had never recovered from the closure of mills and the businesses they supported, and jobs were scarce. In a city with two of Maine's poorest census tracts, a swelling contingent of welfare-dependent non-English-speaking immigrants traumatized by war and violence didn't exactly promise an economic miracle. Nonetheless, they brought new life to downtown -- new restaurants and shops, businesses, even a mosque. Many found jobs in and around Lewiston, and for those who didn't, their welfare payments still helped the local economy.

More importantly, they grew and rejuvenated Lewiston's population. That's critical for Maine, a state whose demographics are a slow-motion economic disaster. As the Maine Department of Labor's chief economist has noted, Maine's unenviable status as the oldest state in the union has less to do with a lot of seniors than a lot of Baby Boomers who didn't have many kids.

That affects everything from the labor force to school and university enrollments. (The University of Maine system, for instance, has been forced to gut itself as enrollments drop.) By one estimate, Maine has to attract at least 3,000 new residents annually for the next 20 years to sustain its workforce, in addition to keeping its existing youngsters from moving away.

As a result of Lewiston's African influx, since 2002 the number of kids in its schools has risen by 10 percent. If that's a burden, it's one that nearby communities might like to have: The school population for the rest of Androscoggin County has fallen by 15 percent.

First Muslim city council: Portrait of a changing Michigan city (Henry Gass, NOVEMBER 9, 2015, CS Monitor)

For most of its history, Hamtramck, Mich., was a Polish city, but in recent decades it became increasingly Muslim. In 2013, it became the first city in America to have a majority Muslim population, with most immigrants coming from Yemen, Bangladesh, and Bosnia. And last week, it elected a majority-Muslim city council - Muslims now occupy four of the six council seats - likely the first American city to do so. [...]

Bill Meyer, a Hamtramck community leader who isn't Muslim, told the Detroit Free Press that Muslims in the city have "helped bring stability, security and sobriety while lessening the amount of drugs and crime in the city."

"Hamtramck has made history," he added.

Posted by at November 9, 2015 1:13 PM

  

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