Beyond Gradual Assimilation: U.S. Male Immigrants’ Working Life and Earnings

Leafia Ye , University of Wisconsin-Madison

Past studies of immigrants’ labor market behaviors have estimated smooth, continuous earnings trajectories to describe immigrants’ economic assimilation, but the reality of immigrants’ working life is likely more complex, including periods of temporary or permanent non-employment, at least in the formal sector. Using complete earnings histories from the Social Security Administration, I explicitly examine the heterogeneity masked by such aggregate trajectories. My research shows that previous research failed to account for immigrants with lower earnings by excluding those who exit the labor force. After incorporating these exits, I show that immigrants’ economic assimilation nearly disappears. In addition, I show that the earnings progression of the “average immigrant” fails to represent any specific immigrant group. Specifically, assimilation seems to occur only for those who had relatively higher earnings to begin with, and for those from a few countries/regions concentrated in Africa and Asia.

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 Presented in Session 222. Trends, Determinants, and Consequences of the Length of Working Life