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Poles and Italians then, Mexicans Now? Immigrant-to-Native Wage Ratios, 1910 and 1940

  • Joel Perlmann

    (The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College)

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    A good deal of recent discussion among social scientists concerned with immigration is about the disadvantages faced by immigrants who enter the U. S. labor force with much-lower levels of skills than those possessed by the typical native white worker. Among contemporary immigrant groups, by far the most important example is the Mexicans. The challenges faced by such an immigrant today are often contrasted with the challenges faced by low-skilled immigrants who entered the U. S. during the great immigration wave of 1890-1920-most notably Poles, other Slavs, and Italians. In articles published at the end of 2001 in the New York Review of Books, Christopher Jencks drew on research by George Borjas to argue that the wage ratios of Mexicans compared to relevant U.S. workers today were far worse than the comparable wage ratios of "new" immigrants compared to native white workers in 1910. Jencks argues for a reconsideration of immigration policy, especially regarding Mexico. This paper explores the nature of the early evidence in detail. A good deal of ambiguity is involved in the materials, but tests made to date do not contradict Jencks's conclusions about wage ratios during the earlier immigration. The paper draws evidence from IPUMS census datasets from 1900, 1910, 1940, and 1950.

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    Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Method and Hist of Econ Thought with number 0203002.

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    Date of creation: 25 Mar 2002
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    Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpmh:0203002
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    1. George J. Borjas, 1994. "Long-Run Convergence of Ethnic Skill Differentials," NBER Working Papers 4641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. George J. Borjas, 1994. "Long-Run Convergence of Ethnic Skill Differentials: The Children and Grandchildren of the Great Migration," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(4), pages 553-573, July.
    3. George J. Borjas, 1994. "Long-run convergence of ethnic skill differentials: The children and grandchildren of the Great Migration," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(4), pages 553-573, July.
    4. Richard Alba & Amy Lutz & Elena Vesselinov, 2001. "How enduring were the inequalities among European immigrant groups in the United States?," Demography, Springer, vol. 38(3), pages 349-356, August.
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