This paper aims to investigate how refugees perform in the US labor market in relation to economic immigrants and natives. Drawing from conclusions from human capital and discrimination theories, I hypothesize that compared to economic immigrants and natives, refugees are more likely to be disadvantaged in the US upon their arrival. For example, refugees often have less time and fewer resources to acquire desirable US-specific labor skills prior to their entry and may face taste-based and statistical discrimination from employers after they arrive. However, over time assimilation would occur for refugees as they obtain more US-specific human capital, such as English skills and US labor market experience, and discrimination may diminish in the long-run as employers learn more about refugee workers. Using US Census and ACS data from 1980, 1990, and 2000-2015, I conducted descriptive statistics and multiple regression analyses on the labor market outcomes of refugees from eight countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Romania, Russia and other USSR nations, Laos, Iraq, and Somalia. My empirical results support my hypothesis. Overall, refugees are initially worse off in the US labor market upon their arrival years than non-refugee immigrants and natives in terms of employment rate, usual hours worked per week, and labor wages, but over time they improve their labor market outcomes and assimilate. However, the discrepancy in the results among the eight refugee groups after controlling for human capital variables also suggests that discrimination might affect the labor market assimilation of some refugee groups, especially refugees from Iraq and Somalia.
Chang, Lily, "Refugees in the United States: Are They Worse Off?" (2017). Mark A. Israel '91 Endowed Summer Research Fund in Economics. 5.
A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Mark Israel Summer Research Fellowship. For the press release about Ms. Chang's award, please click here. For a summary of her research, please click here.