The Economic Integration of Immigrants and Regional Resilience

6.26.13 | How does immigration affect regional resilience, especially during an economic downturn as severe as the Great Recession?

T. William Lester and Mai Thi Nguyen, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explore that question in “The Economic Integration of Immigrants and Regional Resilience” — the latest, and penultimate in our series looking at working papers presented by the BRR Network colleagues at the closed-door symposium at the Urban Institute on May 31 (full list of papers here).

They start by noting that immigration patterns in the years before the Great Recession struck were vastly different from what we could consider the classic “American Melting Pot” scenario (people come here, learn English, and quickly integrate into society despite a little, or even a lot of discrimination, and eventually become as American as baseball, apple pie, and cars).

Rather than coming from “all over,” recent waves of immigrants have come largely from Latin America, and especially Mexico, and have continued coming from those regions and countries. Moreover, they’ve begun bypassing the classic first-generation-in-cities, second generation-in-suburbs mode to locate directly into suburbs and rural urban cities and towns—a trend noted by many and discussed here on May 28.

(By the way, BRR’s own Manuel Pastor and Jason Scoggins recently noted in a report titled “Citizen Gain: The Economic Benefits for Immigrants and the Economy” that the larger economy gains from immigration and citizenship—something that should perhaps be noted in Washington, D.C.)

From there, Nguyen and Lester look at “which factors or sets of factors are associated with immigrant economic integration” and “whether metropolitan areas with higher levels of economic integration among immigrants are more resilient to the economic shock resulting from the Great Recession.”

Among their findings:

  • Immigrants who are more spatially segregated are less diverse across occupations, and “regional structure plays an important role in shaping the opportunity for greater economic integration of immigrants across occupations.”
  • “Regions where immigrants are more broadly spread out across the labor market are more resilient” to the Great Recession’s shock.
  • Metro regions with “greater spatial segregation between immigrants and non-immigrants had lower levels of economic integration.”


Are metropolitan areas with greater immigrant economic integration more resilient to economic shocks? Our analyses, regardless of outcome measure used, indicate that greater occupational diversity does buffer metropolitan regions from more pronounced effects of the Great Recession. Unemployment level change for immigrants is less dramatic in metropolitan areas with greater economic integration. Furthermore, real wage income growth is higher in metropolitan areas with more economic integration. These findings have implications for current immigration policy reform, showing that policies that seek to recreate a segmented labor force will be unwise since occupational diversity reduces the impact of a sectoral specific shock. Thus, policymakers should provide legal avenues for workers from more wide ranging types of occupations.

Ideally, our national policymakers would do just that. But I’m not holding my breath.

Switching lastly from macro resilience to micro, PlaceMakers’ Scott Doyon thinks homeowner associations are (A) a natural result from our obsession with separated use, Euclidean zoning codes, and (B) a “death knell for viable, resilient local community.” Your thoughts?

Photo/ straightedge217

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