Black and Latino College Graduates, Immigrant and U.S. Born Alike, Face Greater Risk of Skill Underutilization than White Counterparts, MPI Analysis Finds
WASHINGTON — With job vacancies at a two-decade high and a workforce and society that are aging, the United States is missing a key opportunity by not addressing the licensing and other barriers that keep millions of college graduates—including 2 million who are immigrants—from working at their skill level, instead relegated to low-skilled jobs or lack of employment.
This skill underutilization, also known as “brain waste” or underemployment, is particularly acute for highly skilled Blacks and Latinos, regardless of their place of birth and even after controlling for other sociodemographic and educational characteristics, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.
Black immigrants with four-year college degrees or higher are 54 percent more likely than White immigrants to be in work that requires no more than a high school diploma or to be unemployed; the likelihood is 40 percent greater for Latino immigrants, according to MPI regression analyses of U.S. Census Bureau data. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants with college degrees are 12 percent less likely to be underemployed. The gaps persist for U.S.-born Black and Latino college graduates as well. The findings provide a useful way of understanding patterns of economic inequality, the authors write.
The report, Leaving Money on the Table: The Persistence of Brain Waste among College-Educated Immigrants, examines the changing educational attainment of immigrants from 2010 to 2019 and their employment outcomes as compared to the U.S. born by race and ethnicity, as well as how the underemployment of highly skilled immigrants varies by state. The report concludes with recommendations for how state and federal policymakers can adjust their immigrant integration policies to better leverage the skills that underemployed college graduates have to offer.
While the educational credentials of recently arrived immigrants have steadily risen, 21 percent of foreign-born college graduates experience brain waste, compared to 16 percent of their U.S.-born counterparts. The strongest single predictor of underemployment among college-educated immigrants is their level of English-language proficiency. Place of education also plays a strong role, as immigrants educated abroad are more likely to be underemployed than the foreign born educated in the United States.
Among other key findings:
- Nearly all states saw rapid growth in their college-educated immigrant populations between 2010 and 2019. However, the underemployment of highly skilled immigrants exceeded that of U.S.-born graduates in 40 states, with strikingly wide gaps in some of those states with the fastest-growing economies, such as Utah and Nevada.
- Brain waste levels for immigrants with health-related degrees were almost twice as high as for their U.S.-born counterparts. Many of the approximately 270,000 underemployed immigrants with college degrees in health or medicine have been overlooked by efforts to overcome health-worker shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report’s authors, MPI researchers Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix, highlight opportunities for the federal government to reduce skill underutilization among immigrant workers. These include the re-establishment of a White House Task Force on New Americans that could make brain waste a focus of its immigrant integration portfolio.
“Maximizing the opportunities for highly trained immigrants and refugees represents one powerful tool for increasing the pool of skilled and talented professionals needed in the post-pandemic economy,” Batalova and Fix write. “A diverse set of institutions could support efforts to reduce immigrant underemployment: community colleges, workforce development boards, adult education programs, immigrant advocacy and rights organizations and refugee resettlement organizations.”
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/brain-waste-college-educated-immigrants.
To learn more about efforts to integrate underutilized immigrant health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out: www.migrationpolicy.org/news/role-immigrant-health-care-professionals-united-states-during-pandemic.
And for all of MPI’s work on brain waste: www.migrationpolicy.org/topics/brain-waste-credential-recognition.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.