Economic Woes Slow Assimilation

Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald, October 6, 2009

The nation’s recession has slowed assimilation among immigrants because many have left the country and fewer are trying to enter the United States, according to a study released Monday in New York.

“The economic downturn had a disproportionate impact on immigrants relative to natives,” said Jacob L. Vigdor, author of “Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States” published Monday by the conservative Manhattan Institute. Vigdor is professor of public policy and economics at Duke University.

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Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and Homeland Security have pointed to a decline in the immigrant population, especially among undocumented immigrants.

Federal authorities estimate the number of undocumented immigrants has dropped from 11.8 million in January 2007 to 11.6 million in January 2008.

While the focus of the Manhattan Institute report is not the size of the immigrant population, it notes assimilation trends have slowed or stalled because the number of immigrants has declined.

Vigdor’s work defines fully assimilated immigrants as those who are indistinguishable from natives in ability to speak English, economic or educational achievements and citizenship. The most recent data in Vigdor’s study, from 2007, shows a stagnation in his assimilation index.

“The absence of change in the assimilation index between 2006 and 2007 is not altogether surprising,” he wrote. “The economic slowdown that was at least partly responsible for the decline in the rate of immigration hurt immigrants more than the native-born population.”

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The number of undocumented Cubans arriving by sea and land has declined, partly because of the recession. The study said that while Cubans continue to assimilate overall, they are lagging behind in civic assimilation–a category that includes citizenship.

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