NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 16, 2006

The famous U.S. "melting pot" that turns immigrants and their children into cultural and prosperous native "Americans" may not be working so well with the new arrivals of recent years, according to researcher George Borjas.


  • The current generation of immigrants started out with low wages compared to native Americans. This suggests that the next generation of second-generation workers, who will make up an important part of the workforce in 2030, may suffer from a sizable wage disadvantage of around 10 percent.
  • A large proportion of current immigrants are Mexicans with poor education, so it may take longer for them to catch up with natives. If the historical pattern holds up, the grandchildren of today's Canadian immigrants will earn about 17 percent more than the descendants of today's Mexican immigrants toward the end of the present century.
  • The low-skilled immigrants of the early 20th century were put to work building a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector. Their jobs evolved into stable and well-paid opportunities. It is "far from clear" that the immigrants of today will have the same opportunities.

Further, the earlier immigrants were "encouraged" to assimilate, says Borjas. For example:

  • By 1918, half of the U.S. states restricted or eliminated German-language instruction. Several had curtailed freedom to speak German in public.
  • German language publications declined from 554 in 1910 to 234 in 1920.
  • Finally, the ideological climate that boosted social pressures for assimilation and acculturation throughout much of the 20th century has all but disappeared.

Source: David R. Francis, "Economic Progress of Immigrants," NBER Digest, May 2006; based upon George J. Borjas, "Making it in America: Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Papers No. 12088, March 2006.


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