Africans Immigrants In The US: Making The Grade, But Not The Jobs

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Africans immigrants to North America are always presented as hard working, friendly, education-focused minorities that adapt well to their new host countries. This image of the hard-working African immigrant is often presented as a stereotype that is in contrast to U.S. born African (Black) Americans.  In fact, the majority of Africans come to the U.S do come for the purposes of education more than any other reason.

This has led to a situation where more than one-third (36.6%) of African immigrants to the U.S. have a bachelor’s or higher degree”. When it comes to education, African immigrants as a group have a higher education rate than immigrants from the West Indies, Asia, and Europe. When compared to U.S. citizens more Africans in the U.S report having a college degree than U.S. born minorities (Asian, Latino, and Black Americans).

Africans in the U.S. are doing significantly better in educational attainment rates where 36.6% have a bachelors degree compared to 29.5% White Americans who are also the privileged majority and have the most access to the power institutions in the U.S.  Marriage rates for Africans were also similar to White Americans too (marriage typically indicate higher income).

Similar trends can be seen in Canada and the U.K. Many Africans use education as a means to finding work and ‘improving their lives’. One would assume that having high educational achievement levels would mean an increase in economic factors for African immigrants to the U.S. However, recent studies show the opposite.

Contrary to popular belief about affluence levels for African immigrants in the U.S., a recent study has concluded that Africans in the U.S. are currently not doing significantly better than other immigrants overall, Black immigrants or U.S. born citizens (Black, Asian or White). In the Mason and Austin (2011) study, “The Low Wages of Black Immigrants: Wage penalties for U.S.-born and foreign-born black workers”, the study concludes that Africans in the U.S are not fundamentally better off than all other groups including African-Americans.

It also concludes that Africans are economically more similar to African Americans. The rate of Africans falling into poverty in the U.S. is more similar to that of African-Americans. Lastly, it concludes that unemployment rates for this demographic are similar to that of African Americans. Africans in the U.S. are also currently earning lower wages then African Americans. Whilst Africans are doing better than African Americans in terms of poverty, unemployment, and marriage rates, it is not significantly better. Despite high education rates for Africans, economic factors aren’t tallying up.

One explanation for this is that Africans still continue to face discrimination in the U.S. because of color (‘race’), and perhaps nationality. The recession also affected this. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, “Foreign-Born Blacks Hit Hardest Of All Immigrant Groups By Jobs Crisis” it was reported that the U.S. recession that began in 2007, affected all Black people in the U.S  because they faced similar discrimination in the job hiring process.

For Africans, discrimination in terms of wage/salary and job hiring was worse than that of African Americans. There has been increasing unemployment for Africans too. By 2009, greater numbers of African immigrants than any other group lived in a household with an annual income below the federal poverty line. The Migration Information Source reports that based on the U.S. census, the majority of Africans in the U.S work in service occupations like construction, extraction and transportation (30%), compared to 12.5% that work in management, business, and finance professions that pay more.

This suggests that despite high education rates, Africans are getting jobs that are not reflecting their qualifications and/or that they are overqualified for. The difficulties faced in legal immigration and/or obtaining work permits may help explain these patterns as well. It would also be beneficial to access other obligations that may contribute towards Africans living below the poverty line like obligations in their home country.

This may include contributions towards buying assets, homes, businesses, or other investments and funding education for relatives. Although the Mason and Austin (2011), suggests that the prominence of the African degree may be one reason as to why Africans are not getting higher jobs, it is important to note that many Africans do get in to Masters/Phd Programs with African degrees. In a small poor country like Malawi as an example, many Malawian doctors and nurses are recruited overseas with their Malawian degrees.

As an example, there are more Malawian trained doctors in Manchester, U.K than in Malawi itself. Education has always been important to Africans, and it is seen as a ways to upward mobility. For many this has been the case, but as immigrants to new countries, Africans will still always face the same levels of economic discrimination that the native born minorities face. Over time, we will need to continue to monitor data to see if factors for second and third generation Africans will converge with those of native born Black minorities.

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