THE IMMIGRANTS: Introduction

During the 1980s approximately 8 million legal immigrants came to the United States. This is higher than during any decade since the early 1900s.1 While the characteristics of immigrants have changed over the past 30 years, the nature of the United States economy has also changed. The stagnation of real wages for many workers and the increase in inequality since the late 1970s has been especially well-documented. In this paper wre investigate the role that these changes in the wage distribution have played in comparisons of immigrants to the native-born.

Most previous work comparing wages of the native-born and immigrants has analyzed differences in mean wages of immigrants and native-born men. This body of work documents the relative decline in mean wages of immigrant men (c.f. Borjas (1990)). There are two problems with this narrow focus. First, when the distribution of wages is not changing over the time period being studied, mean wages are sufficient to characterize the immigrant/native differential. When the distribution of wTages has changed dramatically overtime, such comparison may not be “sufficient11 to completely characterize the changing nature of the differences in economic outcomes between immigrants and the native-born. In this paper, we adapt techniques from DiNardo, Fortin, and Lemieux (1996) that allowr us to examine changes in the entire distribution of wages for immigrants and the native-born from 1960 to 1990.

A second problem with the previous literature is that it generally ignores the outcomes of immigrant and native-born women. The notable exceptions, Duleep and Sanders (1993), Baker and Benjamin (1997),Blau (1992) tend to focus more on labor force participation and fertility than on relative wages. Our analysis includes women, and we find substantial differences between the relative changes in the wage distributions for the two sexes – for example, we find that immigrant and native-born women’s wage distributions are more similar than those for men. Such a finding casts doubt on the descriptive adequacy of a “single index moder of immigrant characteristics by country of origin.

The techniques employed in this paper allow us to investigate the importance of changes in immigrant and native-born characteristics versus the changes in the wage structure in determining changes in the relative wages of immigrants and the native-born. We show how the wage distribution for recent immigrants would change if we held characteristics constant at their 1960s or 1970s levels, but allowed the prices for those characteristics to change to their 1990s levels. We find that the earlier immigrants would have had wages much more similar to today’s new arrivals, if they had faced the present .day prices for their skills. 24 hour payday loans