A new study out this week by the Manhattan Institute should dispel a few myths on immigrant assimilation. The study looked at a range of factors -- economic, cultural, and civic -- to assess whether today's immigrants are becoming part of the American mainstream. But it also compared this generation of immigrants to the Great Wave who came to America's shores in the early part of the 20th century. The good news is that today's immigrants appear to be assimilating at faster rates than those older generations of immigrants, even though they start out with more disadvantages.
Not surprisingly, some immigrant groups -- Canadians, Cubans, and Filipinos -- are perfectly assimilated on economic measures, while others, especially Mexicans, lag behind. The study's author, Duke University professor Jacob L. Vigdor, looked at earned income, labor force participation, unemployment, occupation, educational attainment, and home ownership in computing economic assimilation. On these measures Canadian, Cuban, and Filipino immigrants were indistinguishable from the native-born.
But the study also contained some interesting surprises. For example, even though Vietnamese immigrants scored 99 (on a scale of 100) on economic assimilation and exhibited the highest degree of civic assimilation (as measured by naturalization rates and military service), they scored about the same on cultural assimilation (as measured by English proficiency, intermarriage, and childbearing) as Mexicans and Salvadorans. And the groups that fared the worst on cultural assimilation measures were Indians and Chinese; while Mexicans, Salvadorans, Canadians, and Indians measured poorly on civic assimilation.
The study did not distinguish between immigrants who entered the country legally and those who entered illegally, because census data don't include such information. But, of course, across all measures, legal status is critical to assimilation. Mexicans are far more likely than other immigrants to have entered the U.S. illegally, so it's little wonder they have the lowest civic assimilation rates and fare more poorly on economic measures.
But, what about Canadian and Indian immigrants? There's little clue why they don't join the military or become citizens at higher rates, but Prof. Vigdor does suggest that those who scored highest on civic assimilation, Vietnamese and Filipinos, come from countries that experienced recent U.S. military intervention in the past 100 years; but then so did the Dominican Republic, whose immigrants score in the middle range on civic assimilation.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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