Gregory Clark: "Immigration Is Widening Social Inequality in the United States"
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September 05, 2014, 06:28 PM
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Gregory Clark’s recent book tracking social mobility rates via surnames, The Son Also Rises, got mostly lost in the Piketty shuffle. But now in Foreign Affairs Clark makes explicit one of the key implications of his research showing that social mobility over the generations tends to be lower everywhere than we imagine. As I pointed out in my review of Clark’s book in Taki’s:
Clark’s findings use data that are both newer and much older (e.g., English inheritance records back to the Middle Ages) than [Nathaniel] Weyl’s, but the overall lessons are quite similar.

For example, Clark still finds the same pattern of relatively low performance among Americans with French Canadian surnames, even though most of these families arrived from Quebec at least a century ago. And this weak achievement at becoming doctors or lawyers isn’t restricted just to Louisiana Cajuns, but is found in New England and Oregon as well.

Clark’s confirmation of Weyl’s finding has implications for immigration policy. It is widely assumed in Washington and New York (although not in Los Angeles, where locals have far more experience) that Mexican and Central American illegal aliens are, if not the New Jews, at least the New Italians, who will surge into the middle class real soon now and start to pay lots of taxes and use little in the way of social services. A more likely scenario is that the below average outcomes of French Canadian-Americans represent a best-case scenario for the Mexican-American masses. And, Clark’s data implies, it would take into the next century (if ever) for Mexican-Americans to reach the low levels of French-American accomplishment.

Now, Clark goes there too, drawing out the immigration policy lesson of his French-American data that he had left unstated in his book (perhaps to see if any reviewers could figure out the policy implications of his findings).
The American Dream Is an Illusion

Immigration and Inequality

entrada]By Gregory Clark AUGUST 26, 2014

… Policymakers in rich countries have tended to treat immigration as a challenge, but a surmountable one. Previous eras of mass migration produced good outcomes, for immigrants and settlement countries alike. The vast pool of immigrants that arrived in the United States prior to 1914 — a group that included Christian Arabs, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Japanese, Jews from the Russian Empire, and Scandinavians — assimilated rapidly and contributed to an economic boom. Similarly, since World War II, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have successfully absorbed large numbers of immigrants from varied countries and backgrounds.

But it would be a mistake to assume that those experiences will be repeated for all immigrants. There is reason to believe that many recent migrants to both the United States and Europe will have a much more difficult time than their predecessors. Meanwhile, the countries in which they settle are less likely to see the benefits of immigration as they experience heightened social tensions and widening social inequality. Policymakers would be wise to take those risks into account. Rather than focus on policies for integrating new immigrants, they should concentrate on avoiding selection policies that threaten to create near–permanent ethnic or religious underclasses. …

But recent evidence suggests that, in reality, social mobility rates are extremely low. Seven to ten generations are required before the descendants of high and low status families achieve average status. Thus in modern Sweden the descendants of the eighteenth-century nobility are still heavily overrepresented — 300 years later — among higher social status groups: doctors, attorneys, the wealthy, members of the Swedish Royal Academies. In the United Kingdom, the descendants of families who sent a son to Oxford or Cambridge around 1800 are still four times as likely to attend these universities as the average person. Social mobility rates have also been relatively impervious to government policy. They are no higher in societies like Sweden, with generous interventions in favor of the children of disadvantaged families, than in the more laissez-faire United States. For that matter, they are no higher in modern Sweden than in eighteenth-century Sweden, or medieval England.

Immigrants who quickly assimilated to their new society in countries such as the United States were often positively selected from the sending populations. The Scandinavians who settled the upper Midwest were not desperate, huddled masses but a representative selection from a literate, if poor, society. The Jews of the Russian Empire were certainly poor, but they were an educated elite within their home societies.

Immigrant groups with a low social status at the time of their arrival historically had a more difficult time integrating. Consider the experience of immigrants to the United States who had French backgrounds (as judged by French surnames). The first wave arrived in the United States during the colonial era. Their descendants are mostly concentrated near Louisiana, which was were incorporated into the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and in the northeastern United States. Another group came from French Canada in the 1920s and settled in the northeastern United States. And yet, despite having lived in the United States for multiple generations, those with French backgrounds still have lower than average status in the United States. One measure of group status is the number of medical doctors per 1,000 people: according to this measure, there are still only 1.6 doctors per 1,000 people of French origin in the United States, compared to the U.S. average of 3.5.

The problems that people of French origin have experienced in the United States have nothing to do with U.S. social policy. Their co-religionists, the Irish Catholics and the Italians, experienced more overt discrimination, but assimilated fully — there are the expected 3.5 doctors per 1,000 of the population with Irish surnames. The problem instead was that the French who arrived in the United States were overwhelmingly drawn from the lower classes of Acadia and Quebec, as a result of demographic patterns and selective migration. The effects of this lower social status have persisted across generations, even amid extensive intermarriage between French populations and the descendants of other immigrant groups, including Irish, Italians, and Poles.

The evidence shows that immigrant groups tend to retain the social status that they arrive with. The same goes with more recent immigrants to the United States. Due to visa restrictions, certain immigrant groups were permitted entry to the United States only if they could prove they had skills that were needed in the U.S. labor market. For example, the Africans, Chinese, Christian Arabs, Filipinos, Indians, Iranians, and Koreans who did gain entry into the United States were from the upper echelons of their home societies. And, in the United States, they enjoy significantly higher than average social status (as measured, again, by the number of doctors per 1,000 members of the group). Groups who, for various reasons, did not face the same restrictions — including the Hmong, Latinos, and Maya — entered the United States with low social status and have struggled to achieve upward mobility since. Immigration to the United States, in other words, rarely changes one’s social status. …

Given current patterns of immigration to the United States, Washington faces an enormous policy challenge. Two in five of all immigrants to the United States are from Mexico and Central America. Latinos now constitute 22 percent of all children in the United States; by 2050, they are expected to be 39 percent. But the social status of Latinos, even those born in the United States, is persistently low.

This perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise, given that migrants from Mexico and Central America tend to be negatively selected from their home populations: they are often the people who found themselves in such desperate economic circumstances at home that they preferred to live as illegal immigrants in the United States. (Latinos constitute nearly half of the foreign born in the United States, but four in five of illegal migrants.) The effects have been dire: there can be no doubt that immigration is widening social inequality in the United States.

Read the whole thing there.