Exploring the Role of Legal Status on the Labor Market Outcomes of Childhood Arrivals in Los Angeles

Friday, 20 July 2018: 19:00
Oral Presentation
Ashley MUCHOW, Pardee RAND Graduate School, USA
Robert BOZICK, RAND Corporation, USA
Over a million undocumented immigrant children are growing up in the U.S., attending its schools, and experiencing similar processes of incorporation as their documented peers. Federal law grants these minors the right to a public education through high school, but upon graduation, their legal status limits access to formal employment. These missed opportunities in early adulthood can initiate processes of cumulative disadvantage in subsequent life stages, risking poverty and extreme hardship (Abrego and Gonzales 2010).

Undocumented youth face challenges to incorporation and adaptation common to both first and second generation immigrants, and face two primary challenges to employment: (1) legal status that prevents them from securing jobs in the formal sector and (2) uncertain access to informal or enclave economies. Studies of immigrant assimilation routinely consider the role that cohesive social networks play in providing economic opportunities to those who share a common ethnicity or immigrant experience and live in close proximity. Access to this form of social capital is typically dependent on identifying and affiliating with the ethnic group characterizing the enclave. Given that undocumented youth may not share the cultural or linguistic characteristics of immigrants traditionally embedded in these enclaves, it is plausible that even informal economic opportunities may be out of reach for these individuals.

Despite the recognized vulnerability of this group, little research has considered the experiences of undocumented youth who do not make it to college or do not complete high school. We address that gap and empirically examine to what extent legal status affects the labor market outcomes of immigrants that arrived as minors. We use a survey of immigrants in Los Angeles County to evaluate employment, labor sector, and earnings outcomes, and consider whether neighborhood social cohesion and ethnic concentration attenuate the hypothesized negative effect of undocumented status.