Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Will the recession hurt immigrants' move up the economic ladder?

Photo by plastAnka/Flickr (Creative Commons)

For much of the last century, the United States has provided a means of upward mobility for immigrants willing to work their way up the economic ladder. But with a slower economy predicted for the next several years, how will this affect their prospects?

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute examines the economic integration of immigrants in the U.S., short-term and long-term. While immigrants enjoy low levels of unemployment and make up a large share of the labor force, they are much more likely to work in lower-wage and lower-status occupations, according to the report, with even high-skilled immigrants working beneath their skill level.

Given predictions of a very slow economic recovery, immigrant workers could well hit a lower ceiling on their way up than in the past. From the executive summary:

The 2007-09 economic crisis accentuated immigrants' vulnerability in the labor market and in its wake, it is not clear if past trends in immigrants' economic integration will continue. The lasting impact of job loss and poverty in the context of a weak, protracted recovery could realign the economic and social forces that have historically propelled immigrants' upward socioeconomic mobility.

Over the next decade the US economy is expected to grow more slowly than in the past. Inevitably, slower growth will translate into fewer opportunities for all workers and as is frequently the case, immigrants may prove the most vulnerable.

The report also points out a secondary effect of the country's economic crisis, budget cuts to state and federal programs that have in the past given struggling families a hand up. The complete report can be downloaded here.