Despite Strong Upward Mobility Overall, One-Third of Immigrants in United States Are Low Income
WASHINGTON — The immigrant population in the United States is highly diverse in its origins, characteristics and outcomes after arrival. While research has long demonstrated strong upward mobility for immigrants overall, both over time and generations, the challenges of starting over in a new country can leave some with relatively low incomes and economic hardship. A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) fact sheet out today offers a profile of low-income immigrants, who represent one-third of the more than 44 million immigrants in the United States.
Federal restrictions on access to public benefits for unauthorized immigrants and certain groups of legal immigrants as well as limited English proficiency are among the unique barriers that the nation’s 14.8 million low-income immigrants face relative to U.S.-born individuals in similar financial circumstances. Although low-income immigrants are a minority of the foreign-born population, they are of particular interest to policymakers and service providers seeking to support individuals and families who may need tailored assistance to get on a path to upward economic mobility.
The fact sheet, A Profile of Low-Income Immigrants in the United States, presents data on the origins, states of residence, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and employment outcomes for immigrants with family income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($26,172 for a family of four in 2019). It results from MPI analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, and from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.
Using a unique MPI methodology that permits the assignment of legal status in Census Bureau data, the analysis finds that two-thirds of low-income immigrants in 2019 had legal status, evenly divided between legal permanent residents (also known as green card holders) and naturalized citizens. The remaining third were unauthorized immigrants. About three in 10 low-income immigrants were in mixed-status families, with at least one relative an unauthorized immigrant and another a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant. These low-income mixed-status families included about 3.5 million children who were U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.
Among the findings:
- Participation in the labor force does not guarantee an exit out of poverty. Although two-thirds of low-income immigrants of prime working age were employed in 2019, more than half of those age 16 and older who worked full time earned less than $25,000 annually.
- While the largest numbers of low-income immigrants live in California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, mirroring settlement patterns for the overall immigrant population, low-income immigrants make up the largest shares of the foreign-born population in New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Arkansas and Idaho, comprising between 44 and 49 percent of all immigrants in those states.
- About 2.6 million, or 17 percent of low-income immigrants, live in deep poverty, with family income below 50 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Overall, 41 percent have family income below 100 percent of FPL, with the remainder between 100 and 199 percent of FPL.
- Nearly one-third (32 percent) of low-income immigrants lacked health insurance in 2019, compared to 8 percent of the low-income U.S.-born population. They also participated at lower rates in major public benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Supplemental Security Income.
- Low-income immigrants are far more likely to live in households where no one has a checking or savings account. In 2019, 15 percent of low-income immigrants lived in an unbanked household, compared to 7 percent for all immigrants and 4 percent for the U.S.-born population.
- Low-income immigrants were less likely than immigrants overall to speak English very well/speak only English (39 percent versus 54 percent). They also were less likely to have a college degree (16 percent versus 33 percent).
- 57 percent of low-income immigrants identify as Latino, with 19 percent identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander and 9 percent as Black.
Read the fact sheet here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/low-income-immigrants.