Sunday, January 29, 2006

Economist on immigrant integration and social mobility

This weekend I finally was able to start catching up on my embarrasingly backlogged stack of Economist magazines, and I came across a fascinating op-ed from an issue in early November dealing with the immigrant riots in Paris.

Minority Reports: Where Europe fails in its treatment of minorities compared with America


Americans worry about the different culture of Latinos just as much as Europeans do about North Africans. So even if immigrants in Europe raise cultural barriers to assimilation, this is hardly unique. What matters are the forces that work to overcome those barriers. Two stand out: work and home-ownership.

Work is the archetypal social activity. It provides friends and contacts beyond your family or ethnic group. If you start your own company, it pulls you further into the society around you. And here is a striking difference between Europe and America. Unemployment in France is almost 10%. Among immigrants or the children of immigrants, it is at least twice and sometimes four times as high. In contrast, unemployment among legal immigrants in America is negligible, and business ownership is off the scale compared with Europe.

The second big motor of integration is home-ownership, especially important in the second and third generations. This gives people a stake in society, something they can lose. Thanks to cheap mortgages and an advanced banking system, half of Latinos in America own their own homes. Britain, after its council-house sales and property booms, also encourages house ownership. In contrast, most of the blocks in the French banlieues are publicly owned.

Between them, a job and a house help to create not only more integration but also greater social mobility. Latinos supported America's turn towards assimilation because they feared the trap of Spanish-language ghettos. But the banlieues are full of people who have grown up without jobs, or any hope of getting a better income or a better place to live. For them, integration is a deceit, not a promise.

A job and a house will not solve everything. The father of one of the July 7th London bombers owned two shops, two houses and a Mercedes. But if you want to know why second- and third-generation immigrants integrate more in some countries than others, jobs and houses are a good place to start.

And, I would argue, Houston is even more work and home-ownership friendly than any other major city in America, leading to more social mobility. Not only are our homes affordable, but we have a thriving immigrant entrepreneurship and small business community. Why? This is from an earlier post documenting some meetings with Joel Kotkin when he was in Houston last fall:
A focus group with successful local immigrant entrepreneurs as part of a study comparing NY, LA, and Houston. Bottom line: Houston is the best small business environment in the nation for immigrant entrepreneurs, mainly because of the lack of bureaucracy, corruption, regulations, zoning, and permitting - resulting in plenty of very affordable commercial space and easy and affordable startups. But we have to stay vigilant against creeping local regulation that grows year after year, often well-meaning but with corrosive side effects.


At 10:11 PM, January 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first sentence of that op-ed is completely wrong -

"Americans worry about the different culture of Latinos just as much as Europeans do about North Africans."

The history of immigration and assimilation (or not) of cultures is very different between the US and many of the countries of Europe. To be an American means that at some point, you or your future generations will be a mutt of different nationalities and races. But to suggest the same for the average Frenchman or German or Englishman... it's to their ears a threatening thought that challenges thousands of years of history, and that's why it's so much harder for immigrant groups to assimilate in Europe than it is in the US. That's the key issue, not all that other stuff in the op-ed.


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