How Successful Are Black Immigrants?

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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Proponents of "model minority" stories about black immigrants always fail to compare black immigrants to white immigrants and to U.S.-born whites. When this comparison is done the picture changes dramatically. Two recent reports allow us to make these comparisons.

In the Fiscal Policy Institute's report Working for a Better Life, the researchers provide the wages of U.S.-born and foreign-born workers in New York City by race (p. 32). The figure below shows that among workers with a high school degree foreign-born whites earn significantly more an hour ($14.28) than foreign-born blacks ($12.39). Among workers with a college degree, both groups earn about the same amount. Whether high-school or college educated, U.S.-born whites earn significantly more than white and black foreign-born workers.

The Integration of Immigrants and Their Families in Maryland by the Urban Institute allows us to compare the occupational success of immigrants from Europe and Africa in Maryland (p. 36). Immigrants from both Europe and Africa can be of any race, but African immigrants will likely be disproportionately black and European immigrants likely disproportionately white.

The figure below shows that European immigrants with non-U.S. college degrees are much more successful than similarly educated African immigrants at finding skilled work. Among immigrants in the United States for 10 years of less, 41 percent of Africans with non-U.S. college degrees were doing unskilled work. Only 12 percent of similar Europeans were in these occupations.

These analyses are fairly simple. More complex multivariate analyses could change the picture. The story one gets from looking at employment rates, family income and other economic indicators also could be quite different.

Nonetheless, in the comparisons discussed above, black immigrants seem far from a "model minority." In New York City, white immigrants appear to earn slightly more than black immigrants among similarly educated immigrants. In Maryland, it seems that college-educated white immigrants obtain better jobs than college-educated black immigrants. Once again it looks like American society might not be race-blind after all.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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