The Economic Progress of Immigrants

Michael Mandel

I did a story this week for BW on the continuing economic progress of immigrants. Here's a piece of it:

The good news is that the American melting pot still seems to work. The latest data show big gains since the mid-1990s for immigrants on the key measures of economic performance -- education, poverty, homeownership, and unemployment. In some cases, immigrants have shown bigger improvements than native-born Americans. "America has done extremely well in assimilating immigrants," says David Card, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

True, questions remain about the assimilation of illegal immigrants, many of whom are unskilled. Creating a class of "temporary workers" who have to go home after a few years -- as President George W. Bush again advocated in a speech on Nov. 28 -- might exacerbate the problem by lessening the incentive for immigrants to learn English and become "more American."

Nevertheless, immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, who make up most of the illegal population, have enjoyed improving fortunes in recent years. Unemployment for Latin-American immigrants fell from 10% in 1996 to 6.8% in 2004, even as unemployment for natives rose from 5.9% to 6.1%.

Some other immigrant facts:

Since the New Economy boom started in 1996, the poverty rate for immigrants has fallen from 22.2% to 17.2% (that's for 2003, the last figure available). The share of immigrants with a bachelor's degree or better has also climbed from 23.5% to 27.3%, just below the level for native-born Americans.
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.