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Census figures show economic gap narrows with citizenship

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2019, file photo President Donald Trump congratulates newly naturalized citizens via a recorded message at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Miami field office in Miami. Foreign-born residents had higher rates of being employed than those born in the United States last year, and naturalized immigrants were more likely to have advanced degrees than the native-born, according to figures released Monday, Aug. 19, by the U.S. Census Bureau. (Associated Press)
Published Aug. 20

ORLANDO, Fla. — Foreign-born residents had higher rates of full-time employment than those born in the United States last year, and naturalized immigrants were more likely to have advanced degrees than the native-born, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new figures show that the economic gap between the native-born and the foreign-born in the United States appears to narrow with citizenship.

Immigrants who weren't citizens had higher rates of poverty, lower income and less education compared with native-born citizens last year. But immigrants who were citizens had less poverty, close to equal earnings and higher rates of advanced degrees than native U.S. citizens.

"Usually immigrants start off in the U.S. lagging behind a bit in terms of income, as they need to find the right job, learn local skills and so on and then catch up," said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis. "Immigrants also are very different among each other, and those naturalized may be a selection of those more educated and with better jobs."

Naturalized immigrants had a fulltime employment rate of about 83 percent last year, noncitizens had about 81 percent and native citizens had 77 percent.

"Some immigrant groups have to be employed to stay in this country — those on work visas, which would raise the proportion," said Stefan Rayer, a demographer at the University of Florida.

About 1 in 6.5 naturalized immigrants have a master's degree or higher, while that is true for only about 1 in 8 native-born citizens and noncitizens.

The 2018 Current Population Survey figures offer a view of immigrants' education levels, wealth and jobs as the U.S. engages in one of the fiercest debates about the role of immigration in decades.

Stopping the flow of immigrants into the U.S. has been a priority of President Donald Trump's administration, which has proposed denying green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid and fought to put a citizenship question on the decennial census questionnaire.

Monday's figures also look at differences between naturalized immigrants and those who aren't citizens. In 2018, the U.S. had 45.4 million foreign-born residents, or about 1 in 7 U.S. residents.

Education appears to play a role in narrowing the income gap between the native-born and the foreign-born.

Overall, naturalized immigrants had a slightly smaller median income than the native-born — $50,786 compared with $51,547 — but noncitizen immigrants trailed them both with a median income of $36,449.

But naturalized immigrants with a college degree surpassed college-educated natives' income, and both naturalized immigrants and noncitizens with advanced degrees had higher median incomes than U.S. natives with advanced degrees.

"Immigrants with advanced degrees, whether naturalized or not, may be more clustered in occupations with higher pay than the native population," Rayer said.

About half of the U.S. foreign-born came from Latin America, less than a third came from Asia and 10 percent came from Europe. European immigrants' median age — 50 — was roughly six years older than other immigrants.

More than a quarter of noncitizen immigrants were in service jobs, while almost a quarter of immigrants who were citizens were in professional jobs, according to the Census Bureau figures.

Asians and Europeans had the highest rates of advanced degrees — about a quarter of both immigrant groups had a master's degree or higher. About 1 in 20 immigrants from Latin America had a master's degree or higher.

Immigrants, both naturalized and noncitizens, were overwhelmingly urban and suburban dwellers. Less than 1 in 20 immigrants lived outside of a metropolitan area last year, compared with about 1 in 7 for native-born citizens, according to the figures.

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