Honors Thesis Spotlight: Analyzing Labor Market Outcomes in the Integration of Florida’s Refugee Benefit-Eligible Individuals

“Immigrants’ ability to communicate with members of the indigenous population is probably the most important single alterable factor contributing to their social and economic integration.” In the case of the United States, the rapidly shifting composition of the immigrant population from countries that are sociolinguistically distant from the U.S. combined with the post-industrial economy’s increasing demand for skilled employees (e.g. those with that least technical/vocational training), changes in immigration policy, and claims of a relative decline in immigrant human capital in terms of language ability has motivated a recent surge in analyzing the more qualitative question of English language proficiency across immigrant cohorts and national origin categories. Best estimates suggest that fluency in English increases employment probabilities by about 22 percentage points, and OLS estimates show that proficiency in English is associated with 18-20% higher earnings.

The under- and unemployment of immigrants is a common phenomenon referred to as “brain waste” and can be attributed primarily to the stringent credentialing procedures common in many industrialized countries. Researchers state that in the United States, employment is the cornerstone of the refugee resettlement process because of its centrality in providing self-sufficiency.

Exploring the current state of employment for Florida’s refugee community, this project seeks to further understand the relationship between English proficiency and labor market outcomes for refugee benefit-eligible individuals in Florida, but also to analyze and provide recommendations for the complexities of data collection within governmental agencies coordinating refugee resettlement. My hypothesis was that higher recorded English Proficiency will results in a higher percent change in wages. This positive relationship was reinforced through the evidence in my findings – an increased background level in English (with the added variables of being male and having a higher prior education level) resulted in a positive change in their likelihood of employment as well as their wages.

Overall, the results show that there is an increasingly positive effect on wages when the Client has a higher prior English level. Two OLS regressions were conducted: looking at the effect of English proficiency on wages, and another to look at the effect of English proficiency on the likelihood of the Client being employed. For Entering English learners, there was a 0.5% increased in wages; for Beginning learners, there was 3.2% increase; for Developing learners, there was a 7.4% increase in wages; and for Expanding learners, there was a 7.6% increase in wages. The increase in wages proportionally increases with a higher English proficiency. Yet, within certain subsets, the analysis shows that other characteristics do as well (i.e. gender.) The difference in predicted wages between men and women was about 7.2%, favoring a comparable man’s wage. Wages also increased with prior education background: those that completed high school in comparison to those that had an incomplete secondary education had a 1.4% increase in wages; those with incomplete post-secondary education had a 2.5% increase in wages; and those with even further education had a 7.9% increase in wages.

The findings reinforced the expectation that higher recorded English Proficiency will result in higher wages and higher likelihood of employment. I believe that the analysis provided is essential to the discussion of the impacts of various characteristics: gender, county of resettlement, education level, and job position are significant for both increases in wages as well as likelihood of employment. Further consideration can be taken in refugee resettlement agencies and within the U.S. Department of State for these characteristics that likely impact their labor market success in their communities. Most importantly, these agencies should focus on not just promoting, but ensuring the progression of English proficiency for refugee benefit-eligible individuals in the State of Florida. Demonstrating that there is a positive effect on percent change in wage and likelihood of employment associated with assessed English proficiency provides evidence for advocates of further investment into access to English training as a tool for better job acquisition and retention.

Samantha graduated from Florida State University with a degree in International Affairs and Economics and currently works with Migrant and Refugee Education Alliance. This post is based on Samantha’s honors thesis. You can learn about Samantha here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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