Immigration isn’t exactly a new occurrence in the United States. Still, despite a rich history of welcoming strangers into the country, it seems that the voices of critics calling for stricter immigration policy only get louder and fears over the negative economic impact immigrants might have continue to grow. It’s worth asking, in a country where nearly everyone’s ancestral line includes an immigration story, how things got that way.
A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research compares immigrant pools in the past to the present to determine what has changed about the groups of people destined for a new life in the U.S., and what happens once they arrive.
The study’s authors, Ran Abramitzky of Stanford University and Leah Platt Boustan of UCLA, focus on two specific waves of immigrants: Those who arrived in the U.S. between 1850 and 1920, and those who have arrived in the past few decades. First, they found significant differences in country of origin: The historical group is primarily composed of Europeans while current immigrants are much more likely to hail from Asia and Latin America. That difference is important for many reasons.
Countries in western Europe shared similar developmental trajectories and backgrounds as the United States. Even though some countries were poorer, their economies often had familiar structures and labor markets included similar industries and jobs. That familiarity could help make assimilation somewhat easier for immigrants around the turn of the 20th century, especially when it came to finding and starting jobs.