Summary

(March 2009) A new PRB report, Children in Immigrant Families Chart New Path, looks at the U.S. children of immigrants through a demographic lens. There are more than 16 million children living in America's immigrant families. The vast majority are U.S. citizens who were born in the United States to foreign-born parents. However, the well-being of children in immigrant families varies based on their parents' country of origin, education, and the circumstances of their migration to the United States. Ensuring that all children are thriving as they reach adulthood is critical for building a strong foundation for the next generation of youth. Here are some of the key findings in the report:

  • The children of immigrants have been mostly ignored in the national conversation about immigration policy, yet they are the fastest-growing segment of America's youth and will transform the U.S. population and labor force in the coming decades.
  • Poverty rates are highest among children of immigrants with a combination of several parental risk factors: parents are not proficient in English; parents lack U.S. citizenship; parents have low levels of education; and parents have not lived in the United States for more than 10 years. These risk factors are most common among children of immigrants in the southern and southwestern United States. 
  • Child poverty rates ranged from only 9 percent for children of immigrants with no parental risk factors to 48 percent among children with all four. The national child poverty rate is around 18 percent.
  • For many immigrant families, having a regular job is not sufficient to provide for their basic needs. In 2007, one in three children in immigrant families lived in low-income working families, compared with 17 percent of children living in U.S.-born families. 
  • Children of immigrants from India have among the lowest poverty rates, while those with parents from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—many of whom were admitted as refugees or asylees—have among the highest poverty rates.
  • Nearly half of all children in immigrant families speak English well but live in families where parents have difficulty speaking English.
  • The rapid increase in immigrant youth has created a demographic rift between generations. Aging baby boomers, most of whom are non-Hispanic white, are being replaced by a younger cohort that is much more likely to be Hispanic, multiracial, or Asian.
  • In recent years immigrant families have fanned out from traditional immigrant gateways to new destinations in the Carolinas, Mountain West, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest regions.

This report culminates a three-year study of the characteristics of children in immigrant families funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Those interested in additional state and city-level statistics on children of immigrants can visit the Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Center website at www.kidscount.org/datacenter/.


Mark Mather is associate vice president, Domestic Programs at the Population Reference Bureau.