Immigrant Youth

Very little data on work among immigrants, in general, and immigrant youth, in particular, have been collected. Furthermore, there are problems with the data that do exist. For example, the census makes no distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants or between legal immigrants who have the right to work in the United States and those who are here legally but who are not allowed to work (as is the case, for example, with the spouse or child of a visiting professor). This makes it difficult to interpret the existing data (Jasso, 1997). For immigrants younger than 18 who are granted permanent residency in the United States, the vast majority are coded as students by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 1994, for example, only about 11 percent of 17-year-old male immigrants and 8 percent of 17-year-old female immigrants reported an occupational title (Jasso, 1997). A committee analysis of 1990 census data indicated that 16-and 17-year-olds who had at least one immigrant parent were less likely to be employed than were their counterparts whose parents were born in the United States. These data shed no light on the reasons for this difference. It is possible that adolescents with at least one immigrant parent are less likely to report employment, even if they are working. It is also possible that immigrant parents encourage their children to concentrate on school achievement rather than work. A New Immigrant Pilot Study currently under way is designed to test the feasibility of alternative methods of locating immigrants and maximizing their participation in surveys, and to test ways of tracking this highly mobile population.


The vast majority of adolescents in the United States have their first work experience prior to finishing high school. The combination of federal data sources and national and local survey research provide a fair amount of information about teenagers who have jobs, where they work, and how much they work. However, little information is available on the quality of the work in which young people engage. Information is lacking about the extent to which those under the age of 15 work, although it seems clear that many youngsters begin working for pay at a young age. There is also very little information on subpopulations of young people, such as disabled, minority, and poor youth.

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