August 22, 2003

Research Center Study Reveals Low Wages for Immigrants

A new study by UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center reveals that in 38 metropolitan areas across the United States, both U.S.-born and immigrant workers earn very low wages in “brown-collar” occupations — those employing many recent immigrant Latino men. The study also reveals that earnings are lower for minorities than for whites in those occupations.

The study, titled “Wage Penalties in Brown-Collar Occupations,” shows that the higher the proportion of recently immigrated Latino men in brown-collar occupations, the larger the wage loss for other men in those occupations. On average, these workers will earn 11 percent less than others in comparable occupations. For minority men, that figure is 14 percent.

“The real surprise here is that these workers also suffer an ‘educational penalty’ that undermines job mobility and self-improvement,” said center director Chon Noriega. “That is, brown-collar workers earn significantly less per year of education than workers in other comparable occupations.”

The study recommends that minimum wage standards for immigrants be enforced. It also recommends providing a new immigrant amnesty and expanding worker protections in brown-collar occupations.

“The findings clarify how immigration impacts brown-collar fields, but by no means endorses the notion that immigration harms natives generally,” according to the study conducted by senior research sociologist Lisa Catanzarite. “Many brown-collar fields thrive precisely because of the availability of immigrant labor.

“These findings push us to understand that wage penalties in brown-collar occupations stem from newcomer Latinos’ marginal status, and not from immigration per se,” Catanzarite said. “Thus, somewhat paradoxically, policies to combat pay penalties for native-born workers necessarily involve improving the status of immigrants.”

According to Catanzarite, low wages in brown-collar occupations are caused by the devaluation of work performed by low-status groups, the poor market position of labor-intensive occupations, the limited political power of low-status workers and the willingness of low-status workers to accept poor wages.

The study uses the 1990 U.S. Census 5 percent Public Use Microdata Sample files, which is the latest detailed data available on U.S.-born whites, African Americans and Latinos in metropolitan areas with many recent Latino immigrants.

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