Recently, AP News published an article celebrating that “almost half of the foreign-born who moved to the U.S. in the past decade were college-educated.” It also touts newly-released U.S. Census Bureau data “show[ing]that 47% of the foreign-born population who arrived in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 36% of native-born Americans.”
The article admits that this is a reversal of previous trends, i.e. that for decades the educational level of immigrants consistently lagged behind the educational attainment of native-born Americans. It states that 31 percent of new immigrants who arrived “in or before 2009” had college degrees. What the article fails to mention (and what research from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) tells us) is that “from 1970 to at least 2000 each new wave of immigrants was less educated relative to natives,” which suggests that the radical transformation of our immigration system by the Immigration Act of 1965 was followed by a significant decline in the educational levels of immigrants.
The fact that the U.S. has been getting more educated immigrants in the past decade is, overall, a good thing. That’s because, in general, educated immigrants – particularly during the Information Age – can be more beneficial to the U.S. and its economy than arrivals with little education and low skill levels. They are also, on average, less likely to become “public charges,” i.e. burdens on the American taxpayer.
But there are other factors to consider as well, not to mention that there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”
It is important to keep in mind that media coverage, such as the AP article, pushes a key talking point continuously promoted by the pro-mass-immigration lobby: the implicit claim that immigrants are in general smarter, better, and more industrious than native-born Americans, who, by contrast, are often depicted as poorly-educated, lazy, and entitled. That, of course, is quite insulting and condescending. (Full disclosure: the author of this blog originally came to the United States as an immigrant.) It is also quite misleading.
So is another ploy often employed by the lobby, which hopes to convince Americans to buy into the mass-immigration propaganda by attributing characteristics of a subset of the immigrant population to the entire immigrant population. These advocates stereotype by featuring the narrow cross-section of the most educated and successful newcomers and contrasting them with a broad cross-section of the American public. That is a classic “apples and oranges” comparison.
While educated immigrants can be a boon to the country, they can still have a negative impact on American middle class professionals and college graduates – who are often saddled with tens of thousands in student loans – through increased job competition and depressed wages that come with it. This is especially true when legal immigration numbers are as high as they have been in recent years, over 1 million per year. The current economic crisis caused by COVID-19, with millions of Americans suddenly finding themselves out of work, further justifies limits on even well-skilled immigration.
A 2018 CIS study also offers another reason to adopt a somewhat skeptical attitude towards the article’s unbounded enthusiasm. The analysis found that even though the number of newly arrived immigrants with at least a bachelor’s degree increased substantially (from 34 to 49 percent) from 2007 to 2017, this has not made new immigrants significantly better off. In other words, a college degree is not necessarily a guarantee of success.
Furthermore, just because we recognize that recent immigrants are better educated than any previous waves during the past half-century or the native-born – and just because we acknowledge this to be a relative net benefit (when the numbers are reasonable) – does not mean we have to uncritically accept mass unchecked immigration as an unadulterated, absolute good with no side effects whatsoever.