Low-Skilled Immigrants and the U.S. Labor Market

68 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2011

See all articles by Brian Duncan

Brian Duncan

University of Colorado at Denver

Stephen J. Trejo

University of Texas at Austin - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics


Over the last several decades, two of the most significant developments in the U.S. labor market have been: (1) rising inequality, and (2) growth in both the size and the diversity of immigration flows. Because a large share of new immigrants arrive with very low levels of schooling, English proficiency, and other skills that have become increasingly important determinants of success in the U.S. labor market, an obvious concern is that such immigrants are a poor fit for the restructured American economy. In this chapter, we evaluate this concern by discussing evidence for the United States on three relevant topics: the labor market integration of immigrants, the socioeconomic attainment of the U.S.-born descendants of immigrants, and the impact of immigration on the wages and employment opportunities of native workers. We show that low-skilled immigrants have little trouble finding paid employment and that the wages they earn are commensurate with their skills. Overall, the U.S.-born second generation has achieved economic parity with mainstream society; for some Hispanic groups, however, this is not the case. Finally, we survey the pertinent academic literature and conclude that, on the whole, immigration to the United States has not had large adverse consequences for the labor market opportunities of native workers.

Keywords: immigrant labor, assimilation, generational progress

JEL Classification: J61, J62, J68

Suggested Citation

Duncan, Brian and Trejo, Stephen J., Low-Skilled Immigrants and the U.S. Labor Market. IZA Discussion Paper No. 5964, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1929664

Brian Duncan (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Denver ( email )

Box 173364
1250 14th Street
Denver, CO 80217
United States

Stephen J. Trejo

University of Texas at Austin - Department of Economics ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States
512-475-8512 (Phone)
512-471-3510 (Fax)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

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