Economics, Economics Immigration
March 25th, 2013 2 Minute Read Report by Jacob L. Vigdor

Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in Post-Recession America

This report is the fourth in a series of examinations of immigrant assimilation in the United States. It introduces evidence derived from the American Community Surveys of 2010 and 2011. This new information extends a database on the status of immigrants in the United States that goes back to 1900, and provides detailed information for the period since 1980. The new data provide a more complete picture of changes in the immigrant population occurring after the onset of the “Great Recession” in 2007.

The report uses the assimilation index, a summary measure of the degree of similarity or difference between the foreign- and native-born populations in the United States. The assimilation index is computed using three sets of factors: economic (including employment and education indicators), cultural (including English language ability and intermarriage), and civic (including citizenship and military service). The report provides information on a composite index incorporating all three sets of factors, and component indices examining one set each. The major findings are as follows:

  • The immigrant population has shifted dramatically since the recession. Migration rates from Mexico have been very slow for the past five years, while rates from other parts of the world—notably Asia—have quickened.

  • Between 2006 and 2011, overall immigration from Asia has seen a net increase of 1.4 million people. This includes major cohorts from mainland China and Vietnam as well as English-speaking countries such as India and the Philippines.

  • By 2011, the total number of Mexican immigrants and the total number of immigrants from all Asian countries were roughly equal. In 2007, Mexican immigrants exceeded the number of Asian immigrants by 1.5 million.

  • Immigrants are now more assimilated, on average, than at any point since the 1980s. The rise in assimilation can be attributed to this slowdown and shift in the arrival rate of new immigrants. The rise in assimilation has been most apparent along cultural and civic dimensions.

  • The immigrant population shows signs of recovering from the recession. Economic assimilation declined as growth slowed, but has regained its pre-recession level.

  • Post-recession immigrants are more assimilated than those who arrived before the recession. In general, more recently arrived immigrants tend to be less assimilated. In a stark reversal of this historical pattern, post-recession immigrants are more culturally and economically similar to natives than immigrants arriving as much as a decade earlier.

  • The bursting of the housing bubble played a role in increasing assimilation. Metro areas with the largest increases in immigrant assimilation tend to be those that were most affected by the housing boom-and-bust cycle. The evaporation of easy mortgage credit and construction-related jobs likely reversed the flow of new immigrants to these areas.

The near disappearance of newly arrived, un-assimilated immigrants from American soil may help to explain why initiatives to reform immigration policy have gained traction this year. Since the colonial era, backlash against immigration has focused on cultural and economic differences between immigrants and natives; this report demonstrates that these differences are now less noticeable than they have been in a generation.



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