Essays on the economic assimilation of African immigrants in the United States
Tesfazion, Petros Y.
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The dissertation consists of two chapters on the U.S. labor market experience of African immigrants, a distinct group of immigrants overlooked by the vast literature on the economics of migration. The first chapter examines the puzzle that the earnings of African immigrants do not match their high qualifications in terms of educational attainment. Over 50% of African immigrant men in the labor force aged 25-65 have a college degree, compared to less than 20% of black natives and black non-African immigrants. However, African immigrant men earn significantly less than their native and non-African counterparts, adjusted for education. To gain an in-depth understanding of the possible causes for this earnings gap, we apply cohort analysis to compare the economic assimilation patterns of African immigrants with that of black non-African immigrants as well as with the labor market performance of black natives. Our results show that Africans face substantially lower earnings at entry compared to black natives and black non-African immigrants, but through greater investment in post-migration education, they earn higher returns to their education and thereby close a substantial part of the initial earnings gap over time. We also find that the earnings gap at entry has narrowed for recent cohorts and Africans who migrate during childhood and those with no college education face no disadvantage. Moreover, the patterns of labor supply and participation in welfare programs mirror that of the earnings assimilation. In just 15 years in the U.S., Africans start to supply more work hours and participate less in welfare assistance programs, further suggesting that their lower entry earnings is due largely to greater difficulty with skill transferability rather than lower motivation. The second chapter examines the macro factors that determine the earnings differentials among African immigrants in the U.S. We look into the effect of source country attributes including GDP per capita, school quality, the degree of political repression, the incidence of war, language distance and visa admission types on earnings of African immigrants. We find that language distance, a measure of how different the mother tongue of an immigrant is from English, has the strongest impact on initial earnings. In contrast to several previous research on different immigrant groups, we find no positive impact of source country GDP per capita on immigrants' earnings and no negative impact of the degree of political repression and the incidences of war on earnings. We find some indications of a stronger positive selectivity of immigrants from the poorer, politically more repressed and war laden African countries. In addition, source country school quality has a statistically significant effect on earnings over time, but it has no significant impact on initial earnings. Our results reinforce the conclusion that African immigrants generally face a substantial difficulty with skill transferability, which may have contributed to the tendency for a one-size-fits-all treatment of African immigrants at entry.