"New People":
Influence of Immigration
on American Economy

by Stanislav Kelman

English 112
April 18, 1993

Thesis: Although many Americans believe that immigration has a negative effect on the United States economic development, recent sociological studies have proven otherwise. Studies show that most immigrants are well educated, skilled, and highly motivated people who can contribute to America's economic growth.

Why should we talk about the phenomenon of immigration over and over again? It is true that America was built by people who came from Europe a few centuries ago, but are there so many immigrants now? It may surprise you, but in spite of all the strict Immigration Acts passed by the American Congress during the last few decades, millions of people are still coming to this country. In 1992 alone about 700,000 newcomers were accepted in the United States (The New Americans 17). Immigrants usually settle in big cities like New York where "28 percent of residents are foreign born, the highest proportion in 50 years" (Edmondson 9). Also, as a matter of fact, immigration generates 39% of the total population growth in America (Mandel 114).

Historically those who decided to emigrate were intelligent, brave, and motivated people. But is this true now? And if so do they use their potential in a positive way, for the prosperity and development of the United States? Sixty eight percent of Americans don't think so (Mandel 114). Nevertheless, since the popular point of view is not always the right one, I'll try to use some reliable data presented by specialists in this field to show that immigration actually has a positive effect on U.S. development, especially in economics. The best way to investigate this matter is by looking at the level of education and skills that immigrants have, because only those people who have broad knowledge and ambitions can succeed in American society.

Of course, we have to be aware of the fact that immigrants come from all over the world, have all kinds of backgrounds and goals for the future. The distribution is really interesting. In 1971-91, 35.2% of legal immigrants came from Asia, 23.7% from Mexico alone, 13.1% from Caribbean countries, 12.0% from Europe and 11.1% from Central and South America (Mandel 114). Although these people are natives of many different countries, each natural group is comparatively small. This is why considering any particular group cannot give us a realistic picture of the lifestyle and achievements of all the immigrants. For example there are many articles about Haitian refugees, but in fact there are just a few thousand of those people.

As we see, immigrants come from different countries, speak different languages, have different religious beliefs. But what is different is not necessarily worse, and probably the main thing that distinguishes immigrants is their attitude towards their future. As surveys show, immigrants that are graduating from college "are highly optimistic about their prospects," while Americans are very concerned "about mass layoffs" (Blotnick 108). This is particularly true for those students who major in Computer and Engineering sciences. As Dr. Sun, my Engineering Design professor, told me, his experience shows that there are many more really talented and creative young people among international students than among those born in America. He explains this by noting that only those who were the very best scholars in their own countries are likely to have an opportunity to study in America.

Let's analyze the level of education of immigrants from the statistical point of view. After a brief look, the numbers do not look very impressive. Comparing native Americans and those "immigrants who entered the USA between 1975 and 1980" we see that the mean educational level is slightly higher in the first group - 12.5 years compared to 10.7 years for newcomers (Butcher and Card 293). However, we have to consider several additional factors. One of them is that immigrants are generally younger (Edmondson 9). Also, in their countries of origin, they could have had less opportunity to attend school than Americans, and in addition, the American twelve year high school program is uncommonly long. Finally, some schools in other countries study on a six day week or year round basis. So, it may even be inappropriate to count education in "years".

Although the educational data is not that high for an average immigrant, some really unexpected evidence can be found in universities. For example, the "share of Science and Engineering Doctorates" earned by "students who are not U.S. citizens" has dramatically increased in the last few years, reaching the 45% level or even more than 50% in some areas like Computer Science (Mandel 118). Amazing! Immigrants form just a small percentage of the undergraduate student body but in the graduate schools, the situation is quite different.

The only thing that should be added to the discussion of the education of immigrants is that they do, indeed, perform well in class. Here is an example from my personal experience. Last semester after a test on Differential Equations, our teacher announced the names of those three students who had made "A's." Out of almost forty people in our group there were only four so called "international students" and three of their names were announced.

Now, I would like to show briefly how immigrants apply their knowledge at work. Certainly, recent immigrants generally earn less than native Americans. There are many obvious reasons for this reduced income, including language difficulties, short American work experience, lack of funds and credit history to start their own businesses, and discrimination in employment. It seems surprising to me that there is only a "30 percent wage gap between new arrivals and other workers" (Butcher and Card 293).

However, the picture is not complete until we take a look at the achievements of immigrants who have come to the United States more than just a few years ago. Some of them start their own businesses and in Miami alone "there are 25,000 small Cuban firms" (The New Americans 20). Others work for big companies; for example, "about 40% of the 200 researchers in the Communications Sciences Research wing at AT&T Bell Laboratories were born outside the U.S." Many immigrants work for companies like Du Pont, or American Megatrends, or at large universities (Mandel 116).

It is also important to look at the arguments that are generally used by those who want to stop the inflow of immigrants. Almost two thirds of Americans believe that "new immigrants joining the labor force drive down wages" (Mandel 119). Nevertheless, research by two professors from Princeton University shows that "in no case" was there found "a large or statistically significant effect of immigration on the rate of increase of wages for the least-skilled workers," (Butcher and Card 296).

The other common prejudice is that immigrants abuse the welfare system. However, according to an analysis of the 1980 U.S. Census, 8.8% of immigrant households were receiving welfare compared to 7.9% for native Americans (Borjas 198). Is the difference of a few percent so significant? Besides that, "Some 11 million immigrants are working, and they earn at least $240 billion a year, paying more than $90 billion in taxes. That's a lot more than the estimated $5 billion immigrants receive in welfare" (Mandel 114).

"America has a long heritage of welcoming immigrants, and throughout its history, the country has been reshaped and renewed by the talents, energy, and enterprise of new citizens. They may prove to be a critical advantage in the global economic competition of the 1990's and the early 21st century" (Carey 106).

Now, we can see that there are many achievers among immigrants and most of them can contribute knowledge and skills to the United States' economic growth. In today's tough economic situation, the easiest thing to do is to find a person or a group of people to blame. And generally someone of a different race, culture, or religion is the one who is "responsible" for all the disasters in the world. But the best way to enhance America's growth is to learn how to live together with others and to respect them. Only together can native Americans and immigrants make America the best place to live.

Works Cited

Blotnick, Srully. "Unleashed (Immigrant Professionals)." Forbes 26 Jan. 1987: 108.

Borjas, George J. "Immigrant Participation in the Welfare System." Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44 (1991): 195-211.

Butcher, Kristin F., and David Card. "Immigration and Wages: Evidence from the 1980's." The American Economic Review 81 (1991): 292-6.

Carey, John. "The Changing Face of a Restless Nation." Business Week 25 Sep. 1989: 92-106.

Edmondson, Brad. "The Newest New Yorkers." American Demographics 14 (1992): 9.

Mandel, Michael J. "The Immigrants: How They are Helping to Revitalize the U.S. Economy." Business Week 13 July 1992: 114-18+.

"The New Americans: Yes, They'll Fit in too." The Economist 11 May 1991: 17-20.

Sun, Pu-Ning. Personal Interview 9 Feb. 1993.

A comprehensive new Study by Leigh Freeman at the University of Oregon

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