The New York Times recently reported on a study showing that kids of low-income immigrants are upwardly mobile. The reporter tweeted: “There is a lot in this study tweaking talking points in the current immigration debate.” 

“I’d put it differently: there is a lot in this study suggesting that we’ve been having the wrong immigration debate,” counters the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz in a piece in City Journal.

The study on intergenerational mobility deals only with sons of immigrants (daughters change names and are more difficult to track) and appears to consider only legal immigration.

It found a constant from the 1880s to the present:

For each group, the researchers compared the immigrant pairs with native-born fathers and sons. They found that upward mobility between first- and second-generation immigrants has remained a constant in U.S. history, regardless of the sending country. As the Times put it: “The adult children of poor Mexican and Dominican immigrants in the country legally today achieve about the same relative economic success as children of poor immigrants from Finland or Scotland did a century ago.” In fact, immigrant sons were 3 to 6 percentile points more upwardly mobile than the sons of American fathers.

. . .

These findings may come as a surprise at a time of pervasive pessimism about the American dream. But as the struggles along our southern border and with visa over-stayers from other parts of the world suggest, strivers everywhere still see the U.S. as the promised land. Immigrants endure painful leave-takings and dangerous journeys because they knew that the grinding poverty, ancient hatreds, violence, and entrenched social hierarchies of their home countries would block their aspirations. They knew their children would be better off in rich, relatively orderly, and socially fluid America—even today, with its immigration ambivalence. 

But then something strange happens: upward mobility halts. Hymowitz writes”

“Intergenerational Mobility,” then, could be read as a brief in favor of liberal low-skilled immigration and an affirmation of the diverse American future. But that reading is shortsighted. The paper inadvertently exposes dark clouds.

The upwardly mobile sons of the poor immigrants studied here will have their own children, who will not be the beneficiaries of their parents’ gritty optimism. On the contrary: they will be the low-income, native-born boys whose mobility, the paper tells us, has stalled.

Considerable evidence suggests that the Hispanic third generation takes a “U-turn,” in the words of the center-left Urban Institute—performing more poorly in school and in the labor market than their fathers, and having more children out of wedlock. From what we know of the outcomes of children in such families, that’s an ominous sign for the future.

It’s hard to know whether upward mobility stalls because of our education system’s failures, a culture that saps the optimism and determination of first-generation immigrants, an economy offering few pathways up, or a combination of these things. We do know that while the American dream has life in it yet, its prognosis is troubling.

Read the entire article.