Research shows children of poor immigrants are able to rise from poverty
Sat, April 17, 2021

Research shows children of poor immigrants are able to rise from poverty

The Trump administration has favored wealthier immigrants and has shunned the poorer ones. / Photo by Leena Robinson via Shutterstock


The New York Times has reported that immigration to the US has been shown to be a way out of poverty, if not for the poor immigrants themselves, then their sons. The Times cited new research covering millions of fathers and sons from as far back as the 1800s that claimed children of poor immigrants have had greater success of improving their social and economic statuses in the US than children of similarly poor fathers born in the US. 


Children of Poor Immigrants Were Able to Better Themselves No Matter Which Era They Lived In

That pattern has remained stable for more than a century, even if immigration laws and the countries where the immigrants come from have changed through the years. For instance, the adult children of Mexican and Dominican immigrants residing legally in the US today have attained as much economic success as the children of poor Finnish or Scottish immigrants more than a century ago. The children of poor immigrants, regardless of which era they lived, fared better in life than children of poor Americans. 

The findings are contained in a study done by economic historians from Princeton, Stanford and the University of California at Davis. They pose a challenge to several arguments concerning present-day immigration in America. The Trump administration has favored wealthier immigrants and has shunned the poorer ones, claiming the US cannot afford to give shelter to foreign families who will overwhelm public programs, such as Medicaid. The study found that immigrants who were poor when they first arrived in the US, often escape poverty -- and if not themselves, then their children. 

Ran Abramitzky, a professor at Stanford and one of the paper’s authors, said politicians tend to underestimate the long-term prospects of immigrants. By the second generation, immigrants are doing quite well, he added. 

President Trump and other advocates of stricter immigration maintain that today’s immigrants, particularly those coming from Latin America and Asia, are less likely to assimilate into the economy than earlier immigrants coming from Europe. Data from the research suggests such an assertion is not true. It also shows that Norwegians, whom President Trump has described as model immigrants, were among the least successful after they arrived in the US. 

One reason why children of poor immigrants have greater economic mobility is that their fathers may have artificially low incomes. For instance, a lawyer trained in another country who must drive a cab in America would likely have a lower income than what his skills and training would suggest. It’s also possible that language barriers, discrimination, or limited job networks would cause immigrant fathers to have smaller incomes, and this phenomenon might even be stronger for unauthorized immigrants.


 There is no data to suggest that the children of immigrants have higher mobility. / Photo by Olivier Tabary via Shutterstock


Impact of Place of Residence on Economic Mobility 

Among other factors that might explain these patterns, there is no data to suggest that the children of immigrants have higher mobility because their parents invested more in education. In this data, the children of immigrants were not more educated than the children of US-born parents with similar incomes.

The children of US-born fathers might appear as a group to have lower economic mobility because the legacy of slavery and discrimination has left African-American men with particularly low mobility rates. But differences between the sons of immigrants and the sons of native-born fathers persist in the historical data even after the researchers compared Caucasian second-generation immigrants to the children of native-born Caucasian fathers. 

The researchers suggested place of residence as the only other factor that may influence economic mobility. Both documented and undocumented immigrants were found to have congregated in common international ports of entry, in major cities, in communities where jobs are easier to find. The places where they worked have frequently been the same places that have offered better economic mobility to everyone.

When the researchers compared the sons of immigrants with the sons of native-born fathers who grew up in the same county, they found no difference in the mobility rates. Such a finding suggests that what sets apart immigrants and native-born people is not some characteristic inherent in their culture or work ethic, but rather their decision on where to live and work. 



Legal Immigration and Adjustment of Status Report for Q1 FY 2019

Data from the Dept. of Homeland Security showed that an estimated 257,000 foreign nationals were granted lawful permanent residence status in the US during the first quarter of fiscal year 2019. More than 140,000 adjusted their statuses while they were already living in the US, and 117,000 entered as new immigrants. 

Thirty-nine percent of new LPRs during the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 came from Mexico, the People’s Republic of China, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. 

It is good to know that there is research that refutes Trump’s contention the immigrants will just be a burden to the US when they first arrive in the land of milk and honey. Trump should know better: that immigrants are the ones that make the US a better country.