« PAYGO | Main | Turning Over a New Tobacco Leaf? »

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population

For the immigrant population in the U.S., how well do subsequent generations fare relative to their parents and relative to the native born population? According to recent research, immigrants move to American norms over time, but it is a relatively slow process:

Immigration Math: It's a Long Story, by Daniel Altman, Economic View: Much of today's debate about immigration revolves around the same old questions: How much do immigrants contribute to production? Do they take jobs away from people born in the United States? And what kinds of social services do they use? ... To understand fully how immigration will shape the economy, you can't just look at one generation - you have to look into the future.

Sociologists and economists are just beginning to study the performance of second- and third-generation members of immigrant families. ...[I]t's not easy to generalize. But recent research has already uncovered some pertinent facts. Education is a good place to start, because it's strongly correlated with future earnings. Children of immigrants complete more years of education than their native-born counterparts of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. ... David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley [said being] a child of immigrants ... sort of boosts your drive." ...

Still, it can take several generations for poor immigrant families to catch up to American norms. "For the largest immigrant group - that is Mexicans and Mexican-Americans - the picture is progress, but still lagging behind other Americans," said Hans P. Johnson...

Second generations of immigrant families are managing to climb the skills ladder, too. A recent survey by the Census Bureau reveals that 40 percent of the female workers and 37 percent of the male workers in the second generation took professional or management positions, up from 30 and 24 percent, respectively, in the first generation. The survey, taken in 2004, included many adults whose parents came to the United States decades ago, noted William H. Frey ... With more recent immigrants, he said, it's possible that lower education rates may eventually lead to worse outcomes.

Other factors could ... make success more difficult for today's children of immigrants, compared with those of the past. One is increased competition. The children of Italians and Poles who came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century didn't face much of it, because the government imposed quotas on immigration after their parents arrived, said Roger Waldinger, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. By contrast, the children of recent arrivals face competition from successive waves of immigrants from numerous regions.

Inequality of income and wealth is another factor that could affect opportunities. "The second generation of Italians and Poles came of age in an era of historically low inequality," Professor Waldinger said. "The second generation of Mexican immigrants is coming of age in an era of historically high inequality, and that has to work to the disadvantage of those with low levels of schooling."

But there are also forces working in the opposite direction. For one thing, the children of today's immigrants will have much better access to education and the labor market than those of a century ago. ... Mr. Johnson said. "The conditions today are better in terms of educational opportunities." ... One reason, he added, is that society is "much more open to outsiders" in top jobs and at elite colleges than it ever was before.

Even if successive generations of immigrants manage to become as economically successful as native-born Americans, a big question will remain: How many people do we really want in the United States? From the standpoint of government fiscal policy, Professor Card said, you could argue that the only immigrants you'd want in the United States were those "whose children are going to get Ph.D.'s" and would therefore be economically productive.

Some people might argue that a larger population raises housing prices and causes more pollution, he said. But there can be advantages to size, too. "If you have population growth, you can finance intergenerational transfer systems" like Social Security and Medicare, he said. And lest we forget, he said, "big countries have more power." ...

There is also work by George Borjas on this topic that ought to be mentioned. See Making it in America: Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population. The post includes graphs from the paper showing outcomes across countries for second and third generations in the immigrant population. Borjas says:

In rough terms, about half of the differences in relative economic status across ethnic groups observed in one generation persist into the next. As a result, the very large ethnic differences in economic status that characterize the current immigrant population will likely dominate discussions of American social policy for much of the 21st century.

[2nd generation graph, 3rd generation graph]

Update: More on Immigration. This is about the results of imposing tougher penalties for those caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally:

Along Part of the Border, A Zero-Tolerance Zone Tough Program Is Discouraging Illegal Crossings, by Sylvia Moreno, Washington Post: On June 1, the three Ordaz-Valtierra brothers from Mexico illegally crossed the Rio Grande with the same dream that so many other Latin American immigrants have: head north from the border, get jobs and start sending money home.

Their journey, instead, ended in a federal courthouse here, where, dressed in orange prison jumpsuits, each was charged with the federal misdemeanor crime of entry without inspection. Each pleaded guilty and was sentenced by a U.S. magistrate judge to 15 days. Under guard of U.S. marshals, they were put in shackles and bused to a West Texas jail to serve their time and await deportation home. ...

[T]his year, a 190-mile stretch of riverbank that includes the small border cities of Eagle Pass and Del Rio became a "zero-tolerance zone." If apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol, illegal immigrants are prosecuted by federal authorities for a misdemeanor, sent to jail for 15 to 180 days and then deported. If they are caught illegally entering the country a second time, they are eligible for a felony charge of illegal entry and as much as two years in federal prison. ...[O]fficials predicted, as this tough policy became known, immigrants would be discouraged from crossing through this slice of southwest Texas.

As Congress discusses tightening immigration laws ... this federal experiment, called Operation Streamline II, has shown what it takes to stop the flow of illegal immigrants: aggressive enforcement of the laws on the books. ... The coordination is complicated, and the logistics -- finding jail space over an eight-county area as far away as Odessa, more than 300 miles northwest of Del Rio, and transporting immigrants to and from the far-flung jails -- are a "headache," said Pete Acosta, a deputy U.S. marshal in San Antonio...

Still, this pilot project, which the Border Patrol is considering implementing along other parts of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, has been worthwhile, officials said.

"Although it continues to be a big challenge for everyone involved, it's been at least manageable," said Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas...

Agents on the line, such as Arthur Malacara and Mario Mata, concur. ...[T]hey recalled the days when dozens of immigrants at a time would wade across the river and give themselves up to the Border Patrol. That was just last fall. Illegal immigrants knew they would be processed, given court-appearance slips and released.

"They had no regard for us," Malacara said. ... "Now we're holding them back," Mata said. "It's a drastic change, drastic." They are, said Randy Clark, the agent in charge of field operations in the Eagle Pass Border Patrol office, "the most dynamic results I've seen in my 19 years in the Border Patrol." ...

But as with many border enforcement programs, the positive effects are often offset by negative consequences. "It's plugging one hole here and creating holes somewhere else," said one federal official who asked not to be identified because he is involved in enforcing the program. "If it's only done right here, everybody might go elsewhere."

That appears to be happening. While border crossings are down in Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Border Patrol spokeswoman Maria Valencia said apprehensions between Oct. 1 and Wednesday increased by 9 percent in Laredo, the neighboring sector. Apprehensions for the same period increased by 24 percent in the San Diego and El Centro, Calif., sectors and by 20 percent in El Paso. "Everything has shifted over," she said. ...

The article says that "this federal experiment, called Operation Streamline II, has shown what it takes to stop the flow of illegal immigrants: aggressive enforcement of the laws on the books."

I don't think it shows this, at least I'm not convinced. As the last part of the article notes, with this limited program most of the traffic simply shifts elsewhere. Were it to be enforced all across the border filling local and federal prisons with illegal immigrants, and generating a change in strategy by immigrants to avoid the stepped up enforcement, it's not clear to me that it would be cost effective. And while a felony charge for a second offense might cause fear, it's hard to see how a 15 day detention period before deportation would act as much of a deterrent, nor that local jails could handle jail terms as long as 15 days were it to be enforced broadly. Even with this very limited program they are busing people hundreds of miles to find jail space already. Are we sure this is a better approach than, say, cracking down on people who hire illegal labor?

    Posted by on Saturday, June 17, 2006 at 08:41 PM in Economics, Immigration, Policy, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (1)


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population:

    » Good News on the Border from The Lone Elm

    A zero-tolerance approach to handling illegal immigrants on the Texan border, is working according to a Washington Post article. Immigrants are now captured, taken to court and sent to jail, and then deported. No more catch-and-release. Morale of borde... [Read More]

    Tracked on Sunday, June 18, 2006 at 04:45 AM


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.