Panel Paper: How Resettlement Location and Demographics Shape Refugees’ Early Employment

Friday, November 9, 2018
Marriott Balcony A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Justin Gest, George Mason University

Developed democracies are resettling an increasing number of refugees. Yet despite the importance of this policy area, the factors that promote refugees’ successful incorporation into host societies remain poorly understood. In particular, researchers are divided on whether the path to employment and self-sufficiency is primarily driven by the human capital refugees bring to bear, or shaped by the contexts into which they arrive. Regardless of their conclusion, studies are often frustrated by selection bias that stems from refugees settling in favorable locations. Using an administrative data set provided by a large resettlement organization, this study evaluates the assignment of refugees across locations in the United States to estimate the direct effect of the initial resettlement environment on refugees’ subsequent economic integration. Our findings suggest that the initial placement location strongly predicts the likelihood of achieving employment after arrival, regardless of demographic differences such as country of origin, educational level, or language proficiency at the timeof admission. The results also indicate that that short-term employment success is to a large extent shaped by structural factors in the cities where refugees are resettled – in particular, the availability of employment programs and the amount of native workers competing for low-income jobs.