Figure 8.3

Trends in American attitudes toward immigration.

differences in attitudes associated with a respondent's age, education, income, race, ethnicity, gender, and region of residence. In addition, we included several variables that described economic conditions in the respondent's state of residence (such as unemployment rates and income levels), along with the fraction of that state's population that was foreign-born. This analysis is described in detail in Appendix 8.A and only the highlights are summarized here.

Why have feelings about immigration hardened? This shift may have arisen from concern about economic conditions: the fraction of Americans wanting less immigration has been positively correlated over time with the unemployment rate. Some evidence also suggests a relationship between economic concerns and attitudes toward immigration from cross-sectional comparisons: in our analysis of polling data, Americans living in states with relatively low rates of economic growth in recent years are more likely to want immigration to decrease.21 Economic changes are not the only developments whose timing parallels this change in attitudes. The change may be a response to the rise in illegal immigration or to


However, in the same polls no such relationship emerged between unemployment rates and attitudes toward immigration. Others have also found patterns consistent with the idea that economic concerns motivate opposition to immigration. For example, those who say they believe that the U.S. economy is either getting worse or staying the same are more likely to want decreased immigration than are those who think the economy is in very good condition (Espenshade and Hempstead, 1996). When individuals in a New Jersey poll were asked why they wanted a decrease in the current number of immigrants, concerns that there would not be enough jobs to go around, or that immigrants take jobs away from native workers, were the reasons most commonly given (Espenshade. 1997).

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