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Findings from an Examination of the Labor Force Participation of College-Educated Immigrants in the United States

This is the second of a series of papers that examines the labor market underutilization problems experienced by college-educated immigrants who earned their college degrees in other countries compared with their counterparts who earned their college degrees in the United States.
Author(s): 
Neeta P. Fogg, Ph.D.
Paul E. Harrington, Ph.D.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
Center for Labor Markets and Policy, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Published: 
2012
Resource Type: 
Product
Number of Pages: 
44
Product Type: 
Target Audience: 
Abstract: 

This is the second of a series of papers that examines the labor market underutilization problems experienced by college-educated immigrants who earned their college degrees in other countries compared with their counterparts who earned their college degrees in the United States. Labor market underutilization can occur in several ways and this series of papers examines the four key ways in which underutilization can occur in the American labor market.

This paper examines the extent of underutilization that occurs at entry into the labor market in the form of low levels of labor market participation. College-educated immigrants who do not enter the American labor market (are not working and not actively looking for work) do not avail themselves of the opportunity to utilize the human capital they acquired with their college education. Understanding the extent of underutilization in the form of low levels of labor market participation among different groups of college-educated immigrants can provide important insights to guide policies targeted toward reducing barriers to the full integration of college-educated immigrants into the American labor market.

Findings of this study show a near absence of underutilization among immigrants in the form of low rates of labor force participation. Analysis of 2003 National Survey of College Graduates data found that the labor force participation rate for immigrant males was very high and that while the rate among females was lower than that among males, the lower rate appears to have occurred mainly among women who were married and those who had children. The high rate of labor market participation among unmarried immigrant women (94.4%) indicates a lack of underutilization among female immigrants as well.

There also appears to be little variation in labor force participation rates among male immigrants based on country/region of college degree—unlike findings from the analysis in the previous paper in this series (The Earnings of Foreign-Educated College Graduates: An Examination of the Determinants of the Hourly Earnings of College-Educated Immigrants), in which sizable and systematic differences were found in the hourly wages of immigrants (male and female) by region or country of college degree. While labor force participation rates did vary by region/country of college degree among female immigrants, this variation appears to be attributable largely to cultural differences related to female labor market participation in certain countries/regions of the world rather than the degree of transferability of the human capital acquired in these countries to the U.S. labor market.

Benefits and Uses: 

Findings from this study show a near absence of underutilization among immigrants in the form of low rates of labor force participation. The study found little variation in labor force participation rates among male immigrants by country or region in which they earned their college degrees. Among female immigrants, there was some variation by country in which college degrees were earned, but this variation appears to be attributable largely to cultural differences related to labor market participation among married women and women with children in certain countries/regions of the world rather than the degree of transferability of the human capital acquired in these countries to the U.S. labor market. These findings indicate that the lower hourly earnings of immigrants with overseas degrees that were reported in the previous paper in this series (The Earnings of Foreign-Educated College Graduates: An Examination of the Determinants of the Hourly Earnings of College-Educated Immigrants) may be associated with mal-employment, a form of labor market underutilization that occurs when college graduates are employed outside of the college labor market. A future paper in this series will examine the problem of mal-employment among immigrants with degrees from abroad.

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