Report | Immigration

The low wages of black immigrants: Wage penalties for U.S.-born and foreign-born black workers

Briefing Paper #298

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The popular discussion of black immigrants often exaggerates their achievements and denigrates U.S.-born blacks. One regularly hears asked, “Why do black immigrants do better than native blacks?” (Coates 2009). In these discussions, black immigrants usually are presented as hard working, valuing education, entrepreneurial, and family-oriented. U.S.-born blacks are often presented as lacking all of these characteristics, and sometimes even described as carrying “victimhood baggage” (Coates 2009; Marshall 2006). Many such discussions are driven by anecdotes, and even when these issues are explored using actual data, rarely are comparisons based on more than one measure; rarer still is there a comparison of how black immigrants fare in comparison with native whites.

This report aims to deepen the public discussion by conducting a broader, more careful examination of the socio- economic standing of black immigrants relative to U.S.-born blacks and whites. Its main findings are:

• After taking into account the effect of 15 wage-related characteristics, all black male populations are found to earn less than similar U.S.-born non-Hispanic white men. U.S.-born black men earn 19.1% less. West Indian men, that is, black immigrants from English-speaking Carib- bean countries, do slightly worse, earning 20.7% less.

Haitian men and African men do substantially worse than U.S.-born black men. Haitian men earn 33.8% less, and African men earn 34.7% less than similar native white men.

• All groups of black women have lower weekly wages than similar U.S.-born non-Hispanic white women, but the size of the wage gaps is smaller for women than it is for men. West Indian women do somewhat better than U.S.-born black women. West Indian women earn 8.3% less than U.S.-born white women. U.S.-born black women earn 10.1% less than U.S.-born white women. African women also earn 10.1% less. Haitian women are the worst off, earning 18.6% less.

• Analyses of unemployment and poverty rates show that U.S.-born and foreign-born black populations are also worse off than U.S.-born whites on these measures.

• Economically, U.S.-born and foreign-born blacks have common problems that need to be addressed.


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