"[F]ull economic integration of immigrants requires that they have access not only to the informal financial sector but also to the formal one, including banking, insurance, pension funds, and other institutions. Only by using such institutions will immigrants successfully expand their range as entrepreneurs, become homeowners, build credit histories, save for retirement, and insure against financial and other risks."
Ben Bernanke, Chairman, Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve, "Financial Access for Immigrants: Learning from Diverse Perspectives" Conference, April 16, 2004
Most newcomers, whether they voluntarily left their native countries or were forced to migrate, come to America in search of economic opportunities and the chance to build a better life. While the prospect of higher wages and better educational opportunities has drawn many immigrants to the United States, their ability to realize these aspirations depends on a combination of their own skills, experience, and determination as well as the opportunities and services offered by receiving communities.
Economic success and mobility are not only motivators for immigrants, but they are also key benchmarks of how well immigrant integration is occurring in receiving communities. Higher wages and financial stability are often required before immigrants can develop stronger ties to the broader community. Moreover, economic success for newcomers is usually accompanied by other indicia of integration, such as English acquisition, higher education attainment, citizenship, and civic engagement.
Newcomers' economic motivations, combined with U.S. employers' strong demand for foreign workers, have made immigrants an increasingly important force within the U.S. economy. Immigrants make up one in eight workers in the United States[source] and are expected to account for most of the nation's workforce growth between 2006 and 2035. But their economic contributions reach beyond the workforce. In many urban areas, small businesses operated by immigrants have played an important role in revitalizing neighborhoods and providing jobs and stability for local residents. Immigrant workers also provide critical support to the U.S. tax base. For instance, a 1997 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrants paid more than $50 billion of taxes annually to all levels of government.[source]
The growth of the immigrant population has been accompanied by numerous stories of individual success, consistent with the American folklore of how newcomers can achieve financial success through hard work and ingenuity. Indeed, because the U.S. immigration system favors legal migration by highly skilled individuals, nearly one-quarter of the foreign-born population holds professional or managerial jobs,[source] and some ethnic groups have household incomes that are significantly higher than the national average.
However, these success stories cannot hide the economic challenges faced by the fastest-growing segment of the newcomer population, which includes individuals with relatively limited education or English skills and large numbers of undocumented immigrants. For these immigrants, most of whom work in low-wage industries, current economic trends and existing government policies present numerous barriers that impede their economic mobility.