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Press Release
October 6, 2009

Contact: Kasia Zabawa
Press Officer
Phone: (646) 839-3342

How has the recession impacted immigrants and where they choose to live? Do immigrants learn English more quickly now than one hundred years ago? What impact have hurdles on the path to citizenship had on naturalization rates?

Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States

New York, NY: On Tuesday, October 6, the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation released its second annual Index of Immigrant Assimilation authored by Duke University professor Jacob Vigdor. The index provides the most detailed estimates to date of the assimilation levels of immigrant groups in the United States and also serves to analyze what impact the recession has had on immigrants in the United States.

Last year, USA TODAY called the first edition’s calculations “among the most detailed so far to measure how well immigrants fit in with native-born Americans on three fronts: economic, cultural and civic.” This year’s edition provides more in-depth analyses of immigrant English language acquisition and the rates of naturalization in recent years.

The assimilation index is a quantitative measure based on a combination of decennial Census Bureau Data and the annual American Community Survey. It measures the degree of similarity or distinction between the native-born and foreign-born populations of the United States on a 0 to 100 scale. The index is recalculated annually with up-to-date data.

Key findings include:
  • The economic downturn has contributed to the slowdown of the rate of immigration and has had a disproportionate impact on immigrants relative to natives. While average immigrant growth since 1970 had been in the range of 3-4%, between 2006 and 2007 it was only 1.4%. In 2007, the increase in foreign born population was only 500,000 compared to 2.1 million in 2006. The economy slowed immigration rates, and caused a decline in cultural and civic assimilation.
  • Mexicans immigrants continue to be the least assimilated ethnic group. The English skills of Mexican immigrants are worse than the immigrant population as a whole though there is some evidence that their rate of English acquisition may be higher. Relative to Mexican immigrants, Vietnamese arrived with a linguistic advantage and maintained that advantage over time.
  • Changes in policy have placed new hurdles on path to citizenship but immigrants remain just as likely to pursue this path – illegal immigrants are a clear exception to the pattern. Indications are that immigrants from the late 1990s or early 2000s will have historically low rates of naturalization. There are several explanations, including a higher proportion of recent immigrants ineligible for citizenship. Relative to the whole immigrant population, naturalization rates for Mexicans are low while the rate for Vietnamese is high.
  • Assimilation declined in the four largest destination areas – LA, NYC, Chicago, and DC. This might be another effect of the economic slowdown. Assimilation increased in two other centers of Latin American and Caribbean immigration – Miami and Houston.
  • The rate of English learning among immigrants without any English skills appears lower than a century ago. The immigrants of a century ago, arrived with poorer English skills, but acquired them at a significantly more rapid rate than today’s immigrants.

Howard Husock, Manhattan Institute vice-president for policy research, said that the Institute has commissioned the report because “it is important, as we consider any change in immigration policy, that we have reliable, neutral information about the contemporary immigrant experience. The United States has, historically, been successful at incorporating immigrants, economically and culturally; this Index will allow us to compare the present situation with that of previous generations of immigrants.”

To read the report visit To speak with Jacob Vigdor, please contact Kasia Zabawa at (646) 839-3342 or by email at

Jacob Vigdor, Ph.D is professor of public policy and economics at Duke University and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research interests are in the broad areas of education policy, housing policy, and political economy. Within those areas, he has published numerous scholarly articles in outlets such as The Journal of Political Economy, The Review of Economics and Statistics, The Journal of Public Economics, The Journal of Human Resources, and The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. He received a B.S. in Policy Analysis from Cornell University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 1999.

The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.




The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas
that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

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