A common refrain among anti-immigrant activists is that today’s immigrants just aren’t “assimilating” into U.S. society like the immigrants of earlier eras. However, as a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) points out, the “illusion of non-assimilation is created by looking only at newcomers who have not had time yet to assimilate as fully as earlier arrivers.” When socioeconomic advancement is tracked over time, it becomes clear that “the longer immigrants are here, the more they advance and the better they are integrated into our society.” The report, entitled Assimilation Today, was co-authored by renowned demographer Dowell Myers (a professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California) and by John Pitkin (president of Analysis and Forecasting, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts).

The CAP report uses Census data to demonstrate the integration and upward mobility, over 18 years, of those immigrants who were “recently arrived” in the United States as of 1990 (that is, who came to the country between 1985 and 1989). For instance, since these long-term immigrants first came here, more and more of them have bought homes, become U.S. citizens, and earned higher incomes:

  • Homeownership: Only 16 percent of immigrants who were “recently arrived” in the United States as of 1990 were homeowners. By 2008, 62 percent of these immigrants owned homes.
  • U.S. Citizenship: Only 7 percent of immigrants who were recently arrived as of 1990 were U.S. citizens. By 2008, 56 percent of these immigrants were U.S. citizens.
  • Income: Only 35 percent of immigrants who were recently arrived as of 1990 earned incomes above the “low-income” level. By 2008, 66 percent of these immigrants were earning incomes above the “low-income” level.

In other words, integration into U.S. society takes time, and always has. From the Italian, Polish, and Eastern European immigrants who came here at the end of the 19th century, to the Latin American and Asian immigrants who have come here more recently, the pace of integration in its many forms is best measured in terms of decades, not simply a few years. No group of newcomers climbs the socioeconomic ladder of an unfamiliar country overnight. As the CAP report concludes:

Claims that immigrants are stuck at the bottom of the ladder are due simply to the newness of immigrants and the lack of time for assimilation to occur. Given time, the evidence plainly shows that our immigrants today are growing ever more successful and becoming part and parcel of the fabric of our nation.

Photo by CityofElkCity.