Panel: Determinants of Immigrant Labor Market Mobility
(Population and Migration Issues)

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Ogden (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Julia Gelatt, Migration Policy Institute
Panel Chairs:  Robert Santillano, Mathematica Policy Research
Discussants:  Sarah Bohn, Public Policy Institute of California

Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Recent US Trends
Magnus Lofstrom, Public Policy Institute of California

In a February speech to a joint session of Congress, President Trump called for reforming our legal immigration system to adopt a merit-based system that ensures the economic success of new immigrants. But how well are U.S. immigrants and their children faring in the labor market? And what characteristics and factors shape that success? This panel will inform coming policy conversations by exploring various facets of and factors shaping the labor market outcomes of immigrants and their children.

The first paper, by Julia Gelatt (Migration Policy Institute) explores how immigrants’ paths of entry shape their labor market outcomes. Using the two waves of the New Immigrant Survey, she tests how the employment status, occupations, and wages of lawful permanent residents vary based on whether they entered through an employment, family, or humanitarian class of entry. She considers the role of prior U.S. experience in explaining any observed differences. This work provides information that can be used to evaluate likely consequences of proposals to reduce family-based migration and increase employment-based pathways.

The second paper, by Stephanie Potochnick (University of Missouri) and Matt Hall (Cornell University) examines intergenerational mobility between immigrant workers and their U.S. born children, by exploiting data from the Educational Longitudinal Study that reveal immigrant parents’ occupations in their countries of origin and the United States, as well as children of immigrants’ U.S. occupations. Results indicate greater intergenerational mobility among immigrant than U.S.-born families, but that the story changes depending on where parents’ occupations are observed. Additionally, they find important racial/ethnic variation in the intergenerational occupational mobility of children of immigrants.

The third paper, by Magnus Lofstrom (Public Policy Institute of California) examines how immigrants have contributed to U.S. entrepreneurship through self-employment over the past 15 years. Entrepreneurship is a main pathway through which immigrants overcome barriers to labor market success, and capitalize on their education and skills to contribute to the U.S. economy. Using U.S. Census and American Community Survey data, he finds that immigrants increasingly contribute to U.S. entrepreneurship, particularly during economic downturns. He further finds that growth in self-employment has been especially notable among lower-skilled immigrants.

The last paper, by James Bachmeier and Cody Spence (Temple University), examines the role of industrial and demographic shifts in shaping where Mexican immigrants settled within the United States, and their location in local labor markets. Using data that contains imputations of legal status, they find that much of the surprising 1990s shift in Mexican migration away from traditional destinations and toward the U.S. Southeast was driven largely by a sharp increase in jobs in non-durable goods manufacturing coupled with a substantial decline in the low-skilled native-born population.  

Together, these papers provide a new understanding of how immigrants fare in U.S. labor markets, and of what drives their relative labor market success or challenges. In doing so, the panel will highlight key issues for those considering changes to U.S. immigration selection systems as well as those seeking to harness the talents and contributions of new immigrant inflows to their communities.

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