- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Immigrants to the U.S. are increasingly better-educated than previous generations of newcomers — but they still start off low on the economic ladder, with their median incomes having declined over the last decade according to a new report being released Wednesday.

Nearly 17 percent of recent immigrants in prime working age are on government-run Medicaid and nearly 13 percent collect food stamps, exceeding rates for native-born Americans. A decade ago, the native-born had higher use rates for both programs.

Recent immigrants are also increasingly staying out of the workforce, and their rates of poverty have increased over the last decade.

Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, and one of the authors of the report, said the numbers are puzzling — generally, better-educated immigrants should mean better economic outcomes.

But that decades-long trend line appears to have been broken over the last decade.

Mr. Camarota said the country may just not be as adept at absorbing immigrants as it once was, or perhaps the skills that come with immigrants’ higher education aren’t as marketable as they were in the past.

But whatever the reasons, he said, the findings may undercut those who argue the U.S. should look to educational achievement as a yardstick when trying to select future legal immigrants.

“If you want immigrants who are going to do well, then it probably makes sense you’re going to have to look just beyond education,” he said. “It probably means maybe you want to look for language skills. Maybe you want to look to see what their degree actually is in.”

A separate study that the Center released in the U.S. this week suggests that their economic fortunes is why drives most immigrants here in the first place.

A survey of 1,600 Hondurans found that about 44 percent want to leave their country, but just 33 percent of that group cited the violence or civil war there, which has been on the decline in recent years. Instead, 80 percent told pollsters it’s all about better opportunities elsewhere, despite claims by the illegal immigrant caravan still churning through Mexico, much of which is Honduran, that they are asylum seekers.

The findings were first released last week in Honduras by the Reflection, Research and Communication Team, affiliated with the Roman Catholic order of Jesuits in Honduras. They were then translated and released here in the U.S. by the Center on Monday.

Regarding the study his group released Wednesday, Mr. Camarota said it’s possible the poor U.S. economy over the last decade hit immigrants harder than native-born with the same education levels, and the numbers may bounce back once growth is sustained for a longer period of time.

His study used Census Bureau data, and included foreign-born recent arrivals, both illegal and illegal. That also includes refugees and long-term temporary visitors such as students.

He found the number of new immigrants ages 25 to 65 who held at least a bachelor’s degree surged from about a third of the population in 2007 to nearly 50 percent in 2017. Among the native-born the rate grew from about 31 percent to just less than 36 percent.

Why the population is more educated could be due to a drop in illegal immigration rates over the last decade — illegal immigrants tend to be less-educated than legal ones. And educational rates in countries across the globe are rising, making it more likely newcomers will have higher levels overall.

But the comparative drop in economic well-being is tougher to explain.

Mr. Camarota said explanations range from simple economics to demographics of the newcomers. Women, who overall have lower rates workforce participation and earnings, have jumped from 46 percent of new immigrants in 2007 to 53 percent in 2017.

Indeed, new immigrants of prime working age just aren’t joining the workforce at the rates they used to, according to the numbers. In 2017 nearly 73 percent were working, but that fell to just 67 percent last year. Native-born rates have dipped just 1.8 percentage points during the same time.

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