Population Bulletin – Immigrants in the United States

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People from different places around the world move to new homes for a variety of reasons. They may be seeking economic opportunity, trying to escape a war or natural disaster, wanting to be closer to family or to pursue higher education. For many, that means stepping into an American dream.

The United States has a long history of controlling immigration through laws and policies. These often have had unintended consequences. This Population Bulletin looks at current migration patterns and policies and considers the trade-offs involved in meeting competing goals.

In recent years, the number of immigrants in the United States has swelled from an estimated 28 million in 1990 to nearly 50 million today. The majority of these migrants live in the nation’s top 20 metropolitan areas, especially New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The majority are unauthorized and do not have legal status.

Immigration has long shaped the economic and social fabric of America, both by opening and closing opportunities for workers, and by bringing new perspectives to the nation’s culture. The benefits and costs of immigration are complex, but a common view is that it leads to lower wages for some types of labor and higher wages for others. Some people also argue that immigration increases cultural diversity and contributes to a more vibrant economy.

The economic impact of immigration is influenced by many factors, including the size of the existing labor force and its potential to grow. The labor market is also shaped by the availability of land and the skills needed to make use of it. The United States has a large population of farm and ranch workers, but few of these are qualified to work in high-paying industries like technology, health care, banking and finance.

Immigrants often fill the gaps in the labor market, particularly for high-wage jobs. In the United States, for example, immigrant workers are overrepresented in some industries, including doctors and nurses, dentists and college professors. In addition, they are the backbone of the construction industry and drive a significant portion of agriculture.

Despite their appreciation of the United States and their commitment to making it their home, most immigrants maintain strong ties to their countries of origin. Nearly half of respondents say they regularly phone family in their homeland or send money to loved ones there. Those connections can be both heartwarming and painful.

In general, immigrants have a positive attitude about life in the United States and are confident they will achieve the “American Dream.” They are more likely than the native-born population to believe that hard work leads to upward mobility. This is largely because they have personally witnessed the power of that dream in their own families. Nevertheless, these dreams are not without their frustrations. Despite achieving the American dream, many immigrants feel their class mobility has stalled, particularly for second-generation Americans. This is a result of a range of factors, including increasing income inequality and stagnant wages.