Pew Study: Workforce to Shrink Without Immigrants

A new Pew Research Center study bolsters the case for immigration.  Pew projects a significant reduction of working-age adult born in the U.S. (whose parents also were born in the U.S). The reduction of 8.2 million of working-age adults, from 128.3 million in 2015 to 120.1 million in 2035 would be partially offset by an increase in the number adults with immigrant parents, who are projected to number 24.6 million in 2035, up from 11.1 million in 2015.  The bottom line of this study can be summarized as follows: The U.S. needs new immigrants as baby boomers retire.

Except: […] perhaps the most important component of the growth in the working-age population over the next two decades will be the arrival of future immigrants. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. (The number of current immigrants of working age is projected to decline as some will turn 65, while others are projected to leave the country or die.) Without these new arrivals, the number of immigrants of working age would decline by 17.6 million by 2035, as would the total projected U.S. working-age population, which would fall to 165.6 million.

While immigrants undoubtedly contribute to the U.S. demographically, a 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences similarly underscores the positive fiscal impact of immigration. The seminal 496-page study of 2016 finds that immigrants of all ages except for the elderly use fewer public benefits than the U.S. born. “Cross-sectional data from 1994-2013 reveal that, at any given age, adult members of the second generation typically have had a more positive net fiscal impact for all government levels combined than either first or third-plus generation adults.

Source: National Academies of Sciences, The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, Panel on the Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, 2016.
Source:  Pew Research Center, Immigration projected to drive growth in U.S. working-age population through at least 2035, March 2017.

Who Are the Terrorists? Not Refugees!

In a hilarious segment of Michael Moore’s film, Bowling for Columbine, the documentary film maker covers a wide range of pathetic, unfounded fears. The Year 2000 problem Y2K (nothing happened), the African killer bees that never came, sabotage of candy at Halloween (only 2 kids in the past four years have been killed by Halloween candy—poisoned by relatives), animals that attack lawn mowers, and escalators that maim. We all had a good laugh.

The most recent story of American anxiety comes top down, in the form of Donald Trump’s Executive Order suspending the U.S. resettlement program and banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least the next 90 days, “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

As it turns out, every single deadly jihadist attack inside the U.S. since 2001 was carried out by an American citizen or legal resident, according to data collected by New America, a Washington-based nonprofit group. New America tracked nearly 400 cases involving people charged with jihadist terrorism or a related crime. In fifty percent of these cases, people involved were born in the U.S., while nearly a third involved naturalized citizens or permanent residents.

“Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents,” the report finds. “In addition about a quarter of the extremists are converts [to Islam], further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration.”

This reports does not stand alone. The libertarian Cato Institute also finds no link between immigrants from the seven countries singled out by Trump and domestic terrorism. Combing through databases, media reports, court documents, and other sources from 1975 and 2015, Cato finds that zero people from the list have been involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. And the more left-leaning Migration Policy Institute, comes to a very similar conclusion in a 2015 study, The U.S. Record Shows, Refugees are Not a Threat.

Cato‘s Alex Nowrasteh goes as far to label the new U.S. administration’s suspension of refugee resettlement  “a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

In contrast, the number of terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil by anti-government paranoiacs and white fringe believers is significant. Slate magazine published a list 32 deadly attacks since Oklahoma City—comprising a total of 70 victims—largely based on a  Southern Poverty Law Center project that is tracking terrorists attacks.

The perhaps most troubling aspects of the ban, of course, is its implicit scapegoating of Muslim immigrants.  In a recent column, Intercept Editor Glenn Greenwald analyses how the rhetoric about Muslim refugees is “identical to that used to demonize Jews during the World War II era.”  Greenwald demonstrates how the right-wing Daily Mail’s 2015 cartoon showing Muslim refugees as rats perfectly tracked a 1939 cartoon in a Viennese newspaper depicting Jews the same way.

Glenn Greenwald, Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Uniquely Shameful. The Intercept – Jan. 28. 2017.
The New America Foundation, Terrorism in America After 9/11. A comprehensive, up-to-date source of online information about terrorist activity in the United States and by Americans overseas since 9/11. 2016.
Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, The U.S. Record Shows, Refugees are Not a Threat. 2015.
Alex Noweasteh, The Cato Institute, Little National Security Benefit to Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration. Jan. 25, 2017.

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Just 10 States Resettled More than Half of Recent Refugees to U.S.

Analyzing U.S. Department of State data, the Pew Research Center finds that just 10 U.S. states resettled more than half of recent refugee arrivals (those who were resettled in the Fiscal Year of 2016). The top origin country among refugees resettled in 2016 was the Democratic Republic of Congo (with 16,370 refugees). Syrian refugees (12,587) were the second largest population resettled to the U.S., closely followed by refugees from Burma  (12,346). Refugees from Iraq (9,880) ranked third and Bhutanese (5,817) refugees ranked fourth.

Excerpt: …The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in fiscal year 2016, the most since 1999. But where they settled varied widely, with some states taking in large numbers and others very few, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. State Department data.  California, Texas and New York resettled the most refugees in fiscal 2016 (which began on Oct. 1, 2015, and ended Sept. 30, 2016), together taking in 20,738 refugees, or about a quarter (24%) of the U.S. total. Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Washington, Pennsylvania and Illinois, which each received 3,000 or more refugees, rounded out the top 10 states by number of resettled refugees. Overall, 54% of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2016 were resettled in one of these 10 states.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo (16,370) was the top origin country among refugees resettled in 2016. Some 10% were resettled in Texas, 7% in Arizona and 6% in both New York and North Carolina.  … But on a per capita basis, some less populated states resettled more refugees than larger states. … In fiscal 2016, Nebraska (76), North Dakota (71) and Idaho (69) resettled the most refugees per 100,000 residents. Other states like Vermont (62), Arizona (60) and Kentucky (54) far exceeded the U.S. national average of 26 refugees per 100,000 residents.

Refugee Incomes Rise Slowly

A number of scholars have observed declining incomes for recent refugee arrivals, in comparison to earlier waves (during the 1980s and 1990s). The Migration Policy Institute found that refugees who arrived in the U.S. between 1995 and 2000 had median household incomes equivalent to 62 percent of native born U.S. citizens. But refugees who had been in the U.S. for five years or less in 2009-11 had median incomes equal to only 45 percent of U.S. born. “This gap suggests that the income gains observed among earlier arrivals may not be replicated for those who arrived more recently,” concludes the Migration Policy Institute report.

Refugee incomes climb slowly but steadily over time. During a Nov. 15, 2016 brown bag presentation at the USCCB/MRS, researchers of the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) reported that average incomes for adult refugees peaked at $30,000 after 13 years of residence. Starting out with a meager $7,500 annual income at the end of their first year in the U.S., adult refugees earn $15,000 after 4 years in America. Refugees’ average incomes rise to $18,000, after 7 years, and continue climbing to $25,000 after 10 years of residence. Interestingly,  the the same trend has been observed for refugees resettled to Canada.

The LEO research team, including Dr. William Evans and his research assistant Danny Fitzgerald, looked at roughly 18,000 refugees who entered the country between 1990 and 2014. Fitzgerald combed through American Community Survey  data to locate people entering the country as refugees, and then tracked employment, education, dependence on social programs, tax history and other factors. The researchers’ first major finding related to the cost of resettlement, which was discussed in the first blog post of this three-part series. The second blog post looked at LEO findings in relation to the socio-economic adjustment struggles of refugee teenagers.

Of course, refugees are only a small subset of low-income Americans struggling to make ends meet. A major new publication by the renown international economists, Thomas Piketty, Emmanual Saez and Gabriel Zucman, finds that the average income of the bottom 50 percent of individual earners in the U.S. stagnates at about $16,000 per adult (after adjusting for inflation). One might argue that refugees are doing relatively well, considering the overall wage stagnation trend for low-income Americans.

Excerpt from Piketty, Saez and Zucman: […] our data show that the bottom half of the income distribution in the United States has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s. From 1980 to 2014, average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States, yet the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of individual income earners stagnated at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, income skyrocketed at the top of the income distribution, rising 121 percent for the top 10 percent, 205 percent for the top 1 percent, and 636 percent for the top 0.001 percent.

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Source: Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States. Cambridge MA: NBER Working Paper, December 2016.

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Source: Bill Evans and Danny Fitzgerald, The Social and Economic Assimilation of Refugees: Evidence from the American Community Survey. University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO). Brown bag presentation at the United States Conference of Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services. Nov. 15, 2016

The Struggle of Refugee Teens

Teenage refugees are having a particularly hard time adjusting to life in the U.S. While most resettlement practitioners would intuitively agree with this statement, new evidence from a study of the American Community Survey supports this point with new data.

Dr. Williams Evans of the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) drew data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey to shed some light on the social and economic assimilation of refugees. He found that high school graduation rates declined with age at entry. For refugee kids younger than 14 at the time they came to America, the high school graduation rates were similar to the U.S.-born. In contrast, graduation rates for refugee children older than 14 years were significantly worse compared to the U.S.-born.  The adjustment struggles of older teens, Dr. Evans theorized, is likely due to language barriers, resulting in LEO’s recommendation to direct scarce resettlement resources at older teens.

The LEO research team, including Dr. Evans and his research assistant Danny Fitzgerald, discussed the (yet unpublished) study results in the context of a Nov. 15, 2016 a brown bag meeting at the USCCB. The researchers’ first major finding related to the cost of resettlement, which was discussed in a recent blog post. The research project involved looking at roughly 18,000 refugees who entered the country between 1990 and 2014. Fitzgerald combed through census data to locate people entering the country as refugees, then tracked their employment, education, dependence on social programs, tax history and other factors.Stay tuned for a final post in this three-part series on the MRS refugee research blog.

While much of the research in this area focuses on adult newcomers, the nexus of language and career outcomes is well-understood. Observing Colorado refugees over a period of 5 years, the Refugee Survey & Evaluation Study of 2016 finds a significant correlation between English language proficiency and integration successes. And the Brookings Institute‘s Jill Wilson found in 2014 that adults with limited English proficiency earned 25 to 40 percent less than their English proficient counterparts. In sum, English proficiency is a strong predictor of social integration and workplace successes.

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Are Roads Worth More Than Refugees?

Did you know that every U.S. household currently pays more than $1,100 per year in taxes related to road construction, a statistic that does not include gas taxes and individual driving costs? In contrast, every U.S. household pays $10 annually for refugees coming to America, according to an OECD study. It may be important to keep those figures in mind at a time when 65.3 million people on earth are considered refugees (that is one out of every 113 people), and one out of three people living in Lebanon are refugees from the wars in Iraq, Palestine and Syria.

USCCB resettlement staff had an opportunity to get some additional perspective during a Nov. 15, 2016 brown bag presentation with Dr. Williams Evans of the University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO). Dr. Evans and his co-presenter Danny Fitzgerald shared research findings on refugees’ long-term social and economic outcomes. For this study, the LEO team drew data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey. The study results will be featured in a three-part series on the MRS refugee research blog. So please stay tuned.

On the issue of resettlement cost, Dr. Evans arrived at an average number similar to the OECD figure. He estimated the 2014 cost of resettlement was $9,680 per refugee, which translates to less than six dollars per U.S. household. LEO found that it took refugees nine years to become net contributors to the society. After nine years in the U.S. refugees’ tax dollar contributions increased to the degree that they completely offset and eventually far outpaced social insurance costs (food stamps, welfare payments, social security, Medicaid and Medicare).

It is important to note that Dr. Evans’ calculation of resettlement costs does not factor in volunteer hours and in-kind contributions. Other research has underscored the significance of in-kind contributions in resettlement. For example, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s 2008 study, “The Real Cost of Welcome. A Financial Analysis of Local Refugee Reception,” found that community resources cover 30 percent of resettlement expenses. If you applied the LIRS calculation to the LEO study, the real cost of resettlement decreases to $6,453 per refugee (from $9,680). And finally, refugees find work in the U.S. far earlier than in other countries and start businesses at an even quicker pace than the American-born. One study found that 90 percent of Somali refugees in the United Kingdom were unemployed, while only 26% of Somali refugees in the U.S. didn’t have a job.

The LEO research project involved looking at roughly 18,000 refugees who entered the country between 1990 and 2014. Fitzgerald combed through census data to locate people entering the country as refugees, then tracked their employment, education, dependence on social programs, tax history and other factors.

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How Quickly Are Refugees Moving Up the Ladder?

Caveat: While this paper finds that refugees show significantly better labor market outcomes than economic migrants, it’s worth noting that this study covers an older cohort of refugee arrivals, when refugee cash and medical assistance were available for up to 36 months (up until 1991), and when the U.S. economy was booming. Things have changed quite a bit since then. For example, the Migration Policy Institute recently found that the median income of refugees who came to the U.S. from 1980-90 was $31,000 higher than the median income of those who arrived during 2006-11.  On the plus side, the MPI reports finds that refugees are more likely to be employed than the U.S.-born population, which is quite noteworthy, in light of the Great Recession of 2009. Moreover, local studies have shown how refugees start businesses at a quicker pace than the U.S.born, and how refugees begin contributing to the U.S. society at a rather breath-taking pace. Only 8 percent of refugee households are still receiving public assistance within two years of coming to the U.S., a level of self-sufficiency that beats national norms.

I find that in 1980 refugee immigrants in this cohort earned 6 percent less and worked 14 percent fewer hours than economic immigrants. Both had about the same level of English skills. The two immigrant groups had made substantial gains by 1990; however, refugees had made greater gains. In fact, the labor market outcomes of refugee immigrants surpassed those of economic immigrants. In 1990, refugees from the 1975-1980 arrival cohort earned 20 percent more, worked 4 percent more hours, and improved their English skills by 11 percent relative to economic immigrants. The higher rates of human capital accumulation for refugee immigrants contribute to these findings.
Kalena Cortes, Are Refugees Different from Economic Immigrants? Some Empirical Evidence on the Heterogeneity of Immigrant Groups in the United States . In:  IZA Discussion Paper No. 1063, 2004.

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