Because the census and household surveys do not distinguish among legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and nonimmigrants, the three groups are commingled in the tables in this chapter. In consequence, the trends the tables reveal obviously do not represent legal immigrants alone, desirable as that would be. Even though legal immigrants account for most of the foreign-born surveyed, we have no way of knowing whether, for example, the decline in the skills of the foreign-born was due entirely to illegal immigrants—because their education was declining over time or because they accounted for an increasing fraction of the foreign-born in the survey.

Nor do the available data shed light on the influence on these trends exerted by the mix of immigrants that is determined by the preference categories under which they were admitted. So we do not know whether changes in immigration policy in favor of, say, the better educated or the more highly skilled would alter these trends.

We can gain some insight on these issues from data the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) collects in giving ''green cards" to those newly becoming permanent residents. Among other things, the demographic data include age, sex, and marital status, and the economic data include the occupation reported by the immigrant.14 These data are collected on a monthly basis, so that they are ideal for tracking trends across new immigrant cohorts.

Although income is not reported in the INS data, occupation, a key correlate of income, is a measure of an immigrant's economic status. It would be difficult to gauge the overall trend in economic status by directly examining changes in the fraction of immigrants in each of the 25 INS occupational categories. Instead, we use a summary measure created by taking average earnings of U.S. men in each occupation and then assigning such a value to each immigrant based on the occupation they reported—a value we will term "occupational earnings."15 Table 5.9 presents these numbers for six broad occupation categories, along with the distribution of new permanent residents across these categories for three entry cohorts—1977, 1982, and 1994.16

Average occupational earnings appear below the figures giving the occupa-

14  

Reported occupation may or may not correspond to an immigrant's occupation once employed in the United States. For employment-preference immigrants, who generally enter with arrangements for employment, there is likely to be a close correspondence between reported and actual occupation. Immigrants admitted as refugees or on the basis of family ties may not know what sort of employment they will have once they are settled in the United States, in which case reported occupation may correspond to their occupation in their country of origin or to expected occupation in the United States.

15  

In particular, we use the average annual earnings of full-time, full-year male workers in an occupation, based on census data from 1980 for those aged 21 to 65 years.

16  

The figures for fiscal year 1994 exclude both aliens legalized under provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act and legalization dependents who became permanent residents in that year.



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