Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The word of the day: Assimilate

Immigration policy is a source for many disagreements among the political classes. The thought of “comprehensive” immigration reform evokes images of the undocumented (illegal) millions immediately getting a path to citizenship and taking everyone’s jobs. Hyperbole aside there is some concern attached to giving a mostly unskilled force unfettered (legal) access to those jobs. Recently Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced a bill similar to what was bandied about back in 2006-2007, the only problem now is that the unemployment rate is no longer hovering just under 5%.

So what would be the impact of such a policy? I tend to think the problem is much larger than just masses of unskilled labor unleashed. It is more of an assimilation problem. The Pew Hispanic Center released an extensive study of young Hispanics – aged 16 to 25- and their relatively uneven assimilation into mainstream American society. An estimated 22% of those were illegal immigrants. While the survey shows that the young Hispanics value an education and do agree that hard work pays off, it highlighted the social and educational trends that are hindering them. They have a staggeringly high dropout rate coupled with the women aged 15-19 giving birth to about 82 out of every thousand born. When the Census Bureau has projected that approximately one out of every four US residents will be Hispanic by mid-century we all have a stake in the successful assimilation of future generations.

In a great piece by columnist Duncan Currie entitled Assimilating Down he touches on many different aspects of the assimilation crisis. America has never absorbed such a massive and continuous flow of migrants from one country (Mexico) for such an extended period while that group has been heavily undocumented. He cites research that shows that while Mexican immigrants gradually improve their economic standing over time, they have lower rates of naturalization, weaker English capabilities and much smaller incomes than other immigrant groups. In an era when the college wage premium has skyrocketed and the number of well-paying low skill jobs has rapidly declined, this has put them at a disadvantage over the groups that came over in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The groups at the high end of the skill distribution curve (Chinese, Indian) tend to fare much better than those at the bottom (Mexicans,Central Americans).

What the solutions are to these problems I am not sure but so much hot air (never mind the wads of taxpayer cash) gets expended on border enforcement and amnesty, which are not trivial issues at all, that it’s time to have some good focused policy discussions aimed at the social mobility of Hispanics.
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Speaking of Hispanics, my main Cuban brother from another mother Marco Rubio will be giving a speech at CPAC tomorrow morning. Can't wait! I will be posting my reactions to that and others tomorrow afternoon.

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