Panel: Immigrant Workforce Policies and Advancing Economic Development in Cities
(Population and Migration Issues)

Friday, November 9, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Marriott Balcony A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Mónica Palacio, District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
Discussants:  Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, National Skills Coalition and Paolo Abarcar, Mathematica Policy Research

The Geography of Occupational Concentration Among Low-Skilled Immigrants
Cathy Liu, Georgia State University and Eric Joseph van Holm, Arizona State University

Training and Advancement for the Immigrant Workforce
Hamutal Bernstein and Carolyn Vilter, Urban Institute

This panel examines how to improve workforce policies to better match immigrants with jobs that suit their skills. Specifically, two of the four papers focus on how current policies shape immigrant occupational outcomes, while the other two address how to motivate cities to undertake workforce policies that advance immigrant outcomes and economic development in general. With an interdisciplinary team of academics and policy researchers, the panel aims to share knowledge among the authors, while also informing and receiving feedback from a practitioner discussant and chair. The discussant from the National Skills Coalition is an expert on adult education and workforce policies, with a particular focus on immigrant integration. The chair is director of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, where she implements the city’s programs addressing immigrant and worker rights. We therefore expect that the panel will both strengthen academic research and inform practice on immigrant workforce policies and economic development.

The first paper, from a team of urban planning scholars, investigates occupational concentration (or “ethnic niches”) among immigrants in major US metro areas over time. By examining the role of economic diversity, union density, and minimum wage regulations, these scholars shed light on how economic development policies can match immigrant workers with jobs that suit their skills and enable mobility. The second paper, from a team of policy researchers, investigates gaps and opportunities with respect to current national and subnational policies addressing immigrant skills-building. Drawing on census data and extensive interviews in three major cities with large and economically diverse immigrant populations, the authors present recommendations for how to reshape policies to address the dearth of “middle-skilled” workers by capitalizing on the underutilized skills of immigrant workers.

In the second set of papers, two scholars examine the conditions under which local officials implement immigrant-friendly programs, including workforce policies. First, a scholar of policy and social work examines how the ethnic demographic structure of communities shapes their community development plans, drawing on a unique content analysis of place-based community development initiatives submitted to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1996 – 2008. His findings suggest that highly diverse immigrant destinations, with residents from a variety ethnic groups, may face challenges in forming coalitions that further immigrant workforce and community incorporation. Second, drawing on an original survey of a random sample of 814 immigrant destination cities and towns nationwide, a political scientist examines how local officials perceive (and misperceive) the economic characteristics and value of their immigrant communities and how these views shape local policy responses. In combination, these two sets of papers provide valuable information on how to improve immigrant workforce policies to advance economic development, as well as how to motivate local residents and officials to undertake this crucial task.

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