Book Review Preview: Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus

By Benny Carlson

Stefanie Chambers, Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017).

On November 6, 2016, two days before the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump branded the Somali community in Minnesota “a disaster”. On February 18, 2017, he pointed to Sweden as a failed immigrant country. These statements make it interesting to highlight the situation for Somali refugee immigrants in the U.S. and Sweden. Now, very timely, a book about Somalis in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and Columbus, Ohio, written by political scientist Stefanie Chambers of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, has been published. She has compared the “incorporation” of Somalis in these city environments in a systematic way, using 14 political, economic and social indicators and a rich empirical material, not least interviews with 114 respondents. Her conclusion is that although much remains to be done, the Twin Cities come out on top of Ohio according to most indicators.

If one compares Somalis in Minnesota and Sweden, the former community does not appear as “a disaster”. Over a five-year period (2011-15), employment among Somalia-born in Minnesota (age 16-64) was 62 percent, compared to 26 percent in Sweden. (The figures are going up in Sweden, though; in 2015 they were 31 percent.) Self-employment over the same period was 5.9 percent in Minnesota, 0.7 percent in Sweden. Furthermore, I have myself interviewed several Somali entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities and have been impressed by their patriotism and belief in the American dream. To brand this whole community “a disaster” is apparently counterproductive for the group – it may increase the risk of identity problems and radicalization among young people – as well as for the U.S. in general, where the American dream seems to be fading in segments of the middle and working classes. This branding apparently rests on scanty knowledge. Fortunately, this knowledge gap will to a large extent be filled by Stefanie Chambers.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Benny Carlson
Lund University School of Economics and Management

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