Squalor and immigration
By Scott Sumner
The President’s recent remarks on immigration were widely characterized as offensive. The problem was not so much how he characterized Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa (although that was hardly diplomatic), but rather the implication that immigrants from those places share the bad qualities of their homeland. So I decided to a take a look at some data on average family income by ethnicity.
Haitian Americans average $47,541, which is below the national average, but well above the average for African Americans ($40,931) and Mexican Americans ($38,000). Immigrants from countries such as Somalia tend to be quite poor, reflecting their status as refugees. On the other hand, immigrants from Nigeria and Ghana are near the middle of the pack, as their educational levels are very good:
Immigrants who came from Norway earn $67,403, which is somewhat more than West African immigrants. But keep in mind they’ve been here much longer, on average:
Interestingly, Vietnamese immigrants earn slightly more, despite being here a much short time, and coming from a very poor country.
If you wanted an almost perfect example of what average Americans mean by the term ‘squalor’, you might point to India (especially the India of 10 or 20 years ago.) It features high levels of abject poverty, many beggars on the streets, extremely poor sanitation and cleanliness, poor quality schools, and all sorts of other problems associated with third world countries. And yet immigrants from India actually score number one on the list of average income by ethnicity:
Let me try to head off a couple objections to this post. First, I do not deny that there is a positive correlation between the average income in a given country, and the economic performance of the immigrants from that country. What I do say is that this correlation is far weaker than many people might assume.
Second, this post is not advocating any specific immigration policy. Rather I’d argue that if your goal is bringing in immigrants who will make a lot of money (which, BTW, I do not equate with high quality immigrants, as relatively uneducated Mexican farm workers and hotel maids also perform valuable service to America), then it makes little sense to base your immigration policy on country of origin. Rather you’d want to bring in highly educated people from all sorts of countries, including countries that are neat and tidy and rich, like Norway, and also countries that have massive amounts of squalor and poverty, like India, Philippines and Nigeria.