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Journal Issue: Transition to Adulthood Volume 20 Number 1 Spring 2010

Immigration and Adult Transitions
Ruben G. Rumbaut Golnaz Komaie

Summary

Almost 30 percent of the more than 68 million young adults aged eighteen to thirty-four in the United States today are either foreign born or of foreign parentage. As these newcomers make their transitions to adulthood, say Ruben Rumbaut and Golnaz Komaie, they differ significantly not only from one another but also from their native-parentage counterparts, including blacks and whites. The authors document the demographic changes in the United States over the past forty years and describe the ways in which generation and national origin shape the experiences of these newcomers as they become adults.

Rumbaut and Komaie point out that immigrant groups experience gaps in social, economic, and legal status that are even greater than the gaps between native whites and blacks. By far the most-educated (Indians) and the least-educated (Mexicans) groups in the United States today are first-generation immigrants, as are the groups with the lowest poverty rate (Filipinos) and the highest poverty rate (Dominicans). These social and economic divides reflect three very different ways immigrants enter the country: through regular immigration channels, without legal authorization, or as state-sponsored refugees. For many ethnic groups, significant progress takes place from the first to the second generation. But, say the authors, for millions of young immigrants, a lack of legal permanent residency status blocks their prospects for social mobility. Having an undocumented status has become all the more consequential with the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive federal immigration reforms.

In the coming two decades, as the U.S. native-parentage labor force continues to shrink, immigrants and their children are expected to account for most of the growth of the nation's labor force, with the fastest-growing occupations requiring college degrees. Rumbaut and Komaie stress that one key to the nation's future will be how it incorporates young adults of immigrant origin in its economy, polity, and society, especially how it enables these young adults to have access to, and to attain, postsecondary education and its manifold payoffs.