Trump is wrong: Data show Africa send­ing U.S. best, bright­est

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES - By Tyler Cowen Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg View columnist.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­cried Thurs­day that the U.S. was not tak­ing in enough im­mi­grants from Norway, and ac­cept­ing too many ar­rivals from Haiti, El Sal­vador and Africa. There has been a vo­cif­er­ous emo­tional re­ac­tion to his charges, but I would like to take a more sober tack and con­sider what the data ac­tu­ally tell us, fo­cus­ing for now on Africa and Norway.

One of the most strik­ing facts about im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S., un­be­knownst even to many im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates, is the su­pe­rior ed­u­ca­tion of Africans com­ing to this coun­try. If we con­sider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and liv­ing in the U.S., 41.7 per­cent of them have a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or more, ac­cord­ing to 2009 data. For con­trast, the na­tive-born pop­u­la­tion has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 per­cent in these es­ti­mates, and for­eign-born adults as a whole have a col­lege de­gree at the rate of 26.8 per­cent, both well be­low the African rate.

How about high school de­grees? About one-third of im­mi­grants over­all lack this cre­den­tial, but only 11.7 per­cent of African-born mi­grants don’t have a high school de­gree. That’s re­mark­ably close to the rate for na­tive-born Amer­i­cans, es­ti­mated at 11.4 per­cent.

Or con­sider Nige­rian-Amer­i­cans, Nige­ria be­ing the most pop­u­lous na­tion in Africa. Their ed­u­ca­tion lev­els are among the very high­est in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 per­cent of Nige­rian mi­grants hav­ing a master’s de­gree.

In ad­di­tion, about three-quar­ters of African mi­grants speak English, and they have higher than av­er­age rates of la­bor force par­tic­i­pa­tion. They are also much less likely to com­mit vi­o­lent crimes than in­di­vid­u­als born in the U.S.

That’s all good news of course, and it im­plies we could ac­cept more African im­mi­grants with mu­tual ben­e­fit. Sub­jec­tively, I would also note sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa is the re­gion where I en­counter the least anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment.

As a res­i­dent of the Washington, D.C., area, I live along­side an es­pe­cially high num­ber and pro­por­tion of African im­mi­grants. It is well known in this re­gion that African im­mi­gra­tion out­comes in terms of ed­u­ca­tion, start­ing new busi­nesses, safety, and as­sim­i­la­tion are quite pos­i­tive.

OK, so how about Nor­we­gians? Dur­ing Amer­ica’s ear­lier age of mass mi­gra­tion, start­ing in the late 19th cen­tury, this coun­try re­ceived many Nor­we­gians. They were es­pe­cially likely to come from low-skilled back­grounds, they had prob­lems as­sim­i­lat­ing, and about 70 per­cent of them ended up re­turn­ing to their home coun­try. If we com­pare the six­teen im­mi­grant groups from that time for which we have data, it is the Nor­we­gians and Por­tuguese who did the worst in terms of wage gaps.

To be clear, I think this ex­per­i­ment with Nor­we­gian mi­gra­tion has more than worked out all right, as Nor­we­gian-Amer­i­cans now have above av­er­age lev­els of in­come and have as­sim­i­lated ex­tremely well. But this is a cau­tion­ary tale, in­di­cat­ing that the groups you might think would suc­ceed right away of­ten face big strug­gles.

It would be a mis­take to look at these com­par­isons and con­clude that some­how Africans are in­trin­si­cally su­pe­rior to Nor­we­gians. In fact, there is some pretty sim­ple eco­nomic the­ory at work. The harder it is to get from one coun­try to another, the more the im­mi­gra­tion process se­lects for in­di­vid­u­als who are es­pe­cially am­bi­tious and re­source­ful.

Econ­o­mist Ed­ward Lazear sug­gests a sim­ple ex­per­i­ment. Con­sider im­mi­grants to the U.S. from Al­ge­ria, Is­rael and Japan, and rank them in or­der of most ed­u­cated to least ed­u­cated. The cor­rect an­swer is Al­ge­ria, Is­rael then Japan. Although that’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Al­ge­rian and ed­u­cated, or aspire to be ed­u­cated, your prospects in Al­ge­ria are rel­a­tively poor and you may seek to leave. A tal­ented, ed­u­cated per­son in Japan or Is­rael can do just fine by stay­ing at home. These kinds of con­sid­er­a­tions ex­plain about 73 per­cent of the vari­a­tion in the ed­u­ca­tional out­comes of mi­grants.

In other words, Trump is not only be­ing of­fen­sive, he is also quite wrong.


Washington Post columnist Kath­leen Parker is off to­day.

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