Keys to Successful Immigration: Implications of the New Jersey Experience.
New Jersey ranks fifth among states in the number of foreign-born residents, and fourth in the proportion of residents who are foreign-born, according to the 1990 Census. Among the six states with large numbers of immigrants (California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois), New Jersey has the lowest estimated proportion of immigrants who are illegal: 11.3% compared to 15.6% in New York (the next lowest) and 21.5% in Texas (the highest). More important, New Jersey's immigrants are from a much more diverse set of countries than those in any of the other immigrant states except New York, and that diversity increased between the 1980 and 1990 Censuses. The top two nationalities account for only 14% of the immigrants in New Jersey in 1990, compared to 15% in New York and 35% in Florida (the next two lowest), and 63% in Texas (the highest). New Jersey has more European immigrants (38.4%) and immigrants from non-Mexican Latin America (31.8%) than the United States as a whole (23.6% and 20.8%, respectively). Another significant fact presented is that inequality in New Jersey evolved differently from that in the United States as a whole, and high school dropouts actually improved their relative position between 1980 and 1990.
These facts emerge in various chapters, although the foreword and the following chapter by Bruce Western and Erin Kelley present most of them in a way that effectively establishes the value of devoting special attention to New Jersey. Among the several chapters that go beyond simple statistics in the demonstration of New Jersey's difference from the United States, one of the most intriguing is that by Deborah Garvey, who examines the assimilation of male New Jersey immigrants as measured by their annual earnings. Garvey replicates the technique George Borjas applied to the 1970 and 1980 Censuses for the United States ("Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, 1985, pp. 463-89), using the 1970, 1980, and 1990 Censuses for New Jersey. For 1970 and 1980 the New Jersey results mirror the U.S. results: immigrants assimilate poorly, and successive waves from a given region assimilate progressively worse. Borjas found similar patterns for the United States for the years 1980 and 1990 ("Assimilation and Changes in Cohort Quality Revisited: What Happened to Immigrant Earnings in the 1980s?" Journal of Labor Economics, 1995, pp. 201-45), while for New Jersey Garvey found, in contrast, considerable assimilation that appears similar across arrival cohorts. She speculates that this contrast is related to differences between New Jersey and the country as a whole in the evolution of the wage structure in the 1980s.
A second chapter exploring New Jersey-U.S. differences is that by Kristin Butcher and Anne Piehl. Using the 1980 and 1990 Censuses, Butcher and Piehl examine the impact of immigrants on native wages and employment. A variety of specifications, some of which rely on cross-industry variation in immigrant density, yield generally statistically insignificant effects of immigrants. However, in New Jersey, immigrants are found to increase the wages of native high school dropouts to a statistically significant degree, whereas in the country as a whole the effect is negative and statistically significant.
Evidence in a chapter by Espenshade that a majority of respondents in an opinion poll approved of the current level of immigration seems consistent with the apparently successful integration of the New Jersey immigrants. Garvey and Espenshade's chapter on the fiscal impact of New Jersey immigrants is worth close examination. They supplement family level data from the 1990 Census with a great variety of other data sources to calculate the net contributions of different types of families to state and local governments. They find that immigrant families make smaller net contributions than do native-born families, and the source of the difference is interesting: for families with a head under age 65, the main difference is higher consumption of schooling services by the foreign-born, due to their having more children, and possibly due to their residing in areas with high per-child schooling expenditures. As noted by the authors, however, unreported regressions indicate that controlling for the characteristics of families renders the immigrant-native gap insignificant.
Other chapters in the volume range from an examination of the lack of a public educational strategy for immigrants to a study of political behavior and assimilation measured by homeownership or fertility. Collectively, the book's chapters form a mosaic depicting immigrant life in New Jersey.
Espenshade in his foreword attributes the pattern of findings reported in the book to the country mix of New Jersey's immigrants, which implies a higher educational level than the national immigrant average. He calls for a points system for the United States, which would assess prospective immigrants and admit those with higher education levels. This recommendation is consistent with findings of the book, but much of New Jersey's divergence from the United States as a whole may be due to differing economic developments, which may be beyond policy control.
Jennifer Hunt Associate Professor Department of Economics Yale University