Book review of Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success by Ron Abramitzky and Leah Boustan – Low Calorie Diets Tips

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About 1.8 million people have been turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border since March 2020, when the Trump administration invoked Title 42 — a public health order that allows border guards to refuse migrants entry to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Under the policy, agents can quickly expel the migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. The Biden administration’s intent to remove this restriction has sparked renewed debate about the value of immigration and derailed plans for broader immigration reform. This is just the final episode in a raging battle marked by differing narratives about immigration. In 2016, President Barack Obama expressed his view: “America is stronger because of immigrants, America is great because of immigrants.” In announcing his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump offered a more somber perspective, arguing that immigrants from Mexico “have a lot of problems and those problems come with bring yourself … They bring drugs. They bring crime.”

Proponents of further restrictions on entry into the United States often cite concerns that immigrants could take jobs that would otherwise go to other Americans, drain public resources, and create a permanent underclass of unassimilated families that never catch up. This has led to a particular focus on restricting the entry of poorer immigrants and those from what Trump has infamously dubbed “S–hole countries.” Proponents of immigration argue both morally — “Give me your weary, poor, huddled masses” — and economically, arguing that immigrants have the potential to boost the economy.

The reality is that immigration debates are often driven more by sentiment than fact. And there are often disagreements about basic facts — such as how immigration has evolved over time, how successful immigrants become after entering the United States, and how they affect the communities they enter. Part of the problem is a lack of accessible empirical evidence on the subject.

Enter “Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success,” a book by economic historians Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan that attempts to correct the facts using an economics toolkit and a trove of data. Your mission is twofold. First, to offer a data-backed account of the history of American immigration. Second, to provide guidance on what research suggests about immigration policy design.

The book reflects an ongoing renaissance in the field of economic history, fueled by technological advances — a proliferation of digitized records, new techniques to analyze them, and the launch of platforms like Ancestry — that are breathing new life into a number of long-standing questions about immigration. Abramitzky and Boustan are masters of the craft, creatively using the evolving data landscape to deepen our understanding of the past and present.

Contrary to the rags-to-riches mythology, a more systematic look at the data shows that low-income immigrants do not tend to catch up with nonimmigrants’ income levels over their lifetime. Instead, financially successful immigrants tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. To name a few, the authors point out that Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s father “co-owned an emerald mine.” eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s father is a surgeon who worked at Johns Hopkins University, and his mother has a PhD in linguistics. The “father of Google co-founder Sergey Brin is a mathematics professor” and his “mother is a NASA scientist”. When I look at how many companies have been run by highly skilled immigrants, I wonder how much more innovation we’re missing out on by not opening our doors wider to the world’s talent. But these are hardly tales of huddled masses.

The fact that immigrants with low income and education are also successful is based on not only assessing the fate of the immigrants themselves, but also that of their children and grandchildren. As it turns out, Abramitzky and Boustan write, “Children of poor immigrants from almost every country in the world make it into the middle of the income distribution.” Immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong and India do particularly well.

The book debunks myths that immigrants dramatically increase crime and crowd out US-born workers. Much of this work focuses on natural experiments, where sudden shocks in immigration levels have allowed for a better understanding of cause and effect. For example, the authors point to the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980, which brought an influx of Cuban immigrants to the United States, particularly Miami, virtually overnight. The rise of low-income immigrants did not result in large spikes in unemployment for US-born workers. Low-skilled immigrants have a history of taking jobs that would otherwise be unfilled or filled by machines. As businesses across America rushed to automate their operations, the influx of Cuban immigrants into the Miami area slowed that process, and jobs went to the people rather than them Machinery. Compared to the rest of the country, companies in areas with high immigration have access to more workers and therefore less incentive to invest in further automation.

This has implications for today’s immigration debates: the United States is expected to face dramatic labor market shortages as baby boomers retire and lower birth rates over time mean fewer young people will replace them. Increased immigration is one approach to avoiding the crisis. In particular, the other way to avert this crisis is through further automation, made possible by rapid advances in artificial intelligence. Immigration policies will contribute to the extent to which the economy will depend on humans rather than machines in the coming decades.

Immigration is, of course, about more than just economic activity. Part of its beauty is the cultural richness and diversity it brings. A multicultural society is more than the sum of its parts. Miami is exciting not because of the assimilation, but because of the culture that its diverse population has created. It’s a city where you’ll find croquettes and Cuban coffee as well as pizza and burgers. There is a rich history of immigrants bringing with them new cuisines that were then adopted and adapted in the United States, a journey seen in the evolution of Italian-American cuisine.

Drawing on the research, Abramitzky and Boustan comment on a number of hot policy questions: For example, should the United States focus on encouraging graduate immigration? They conclude that “policies aimed at discouraging less educated immigrants from entering the United States are misguided.” Regarding the border wall, they argue that “nobody benefits from the border protection policy”. And referring to the 1.5 million undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, they clamor for “providing work permits and a route to citizenship,” noting that “the obstacles faced by undocumented children are stumbling blocks that we have created ourselves. ” On this last point it is difficult to disagree. Our treatment of undocumented children is a blot on our nation.

In the end, the authors offer an optimistic message: “Immigration contributes to a thriving American society.” In a rapidly evolving world, Abramitzky and Boustan urge us to “think long-term and recognize that upward mobility takes time, and sometimes in generations rather than is measured in years”.

Streets of Gold got me thinking about my own family’s journey. I thought of my great-grandparents, Carmelo and Vincenza, who moved to New York from Sicily in the 1910s. As a recent immigrant, my great-grandfather spoke no English and worked as a “labourer” according to the census. “Scrivilo” (write it down) he said when looking for work. His employers would write down the address and he would go there for the day. He and my great-grandmother spent the rest of their lives in a railroad-style apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, raising four children, including my grandmother. As my grandmother tells, her parents left Sicily in search of opportunities for their family. My grandmother lived her entire life in the same few blocks from Manhattan, worked as a nanny, and had a culture that was distinctly Italian-American (from her cuisine to her mix of languages) and distinctly New York (her love of the Yankees and H&H bagels). . ). My parents taught elementary school in upstate New York.

And a century after my family moved to this country, I moved to Boston and became a professor. I still cook my grandmother’s recipes (like a pasta dish with sardines, raisins and fennel); I’m still a Yankees fan (even though I live in Boston!); and I don’t speak a word of Italian.

Shortly after my grandmother passed away a few years ago, I was chatting with one of her friends. She told stories about my grandmother and remembered her love for children and cooking. She told me how happy my grandmother was to see her children and grandchildren as adults enjoying life and contributing to society.

When we broke up, she said something that stuck with me, which reflects the main message of Streets of Gold. Commenting on the struggles, the triumphs, the sorrows and the joys that families face across generations, she said, “This is the American Dream.”

Michael Luca is Lee J. Styslinger III Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and co-author of “The Power of Experimentation: Making Decisions in a Data-Driven World.”

America’s Untold Immigrant Success Story

By Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan

Public Affairs. 237 pages. $29

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