Social Networks and the Dynamics of Labour Market Outcomes: Evidence from Refugees Resettled in the U.S.
Research on recent immigrants’ social networks and their hunt for work has produced mixed findings. Such networks have been shown to provide job opportunities and raise wages, but they can also aggravate cultural tensions and trigger competition for jobs. A 2012 study from Northwestern University, published in the Review of Economic Studies, suggests that it’s the composition of an immigrant’s social network that determines its impact on his or her employment prospects.
The study, “Social Networks and the Dynamics of Labour Market Outcomes: Evidence from Refugees Resettled in the U.S.,” examines how social networks affect employment for newly arrived workers. The researcher used data on approximately 1,700 male refugees between 2001 and 2005 from the International Rescue Committee, the Census Bureau and the Department for Health and Human Services. Refugee populations were studied because individuals typically settle in locations with existing social networks.
Key study findings include:
- The arrival in current and prior years of a larger-than-average number of network members decreases the probability of employment for a new entrant by at least 4.8 percentage points. However, if the refugee social network is more than two years old, the probability that a new refugee will find employment increases by 4.6 percentage points.
- Because of competition for jobs from new refugees, the employment rate for established refugees increases only 3.4% for each additional year of residency. “The negative competition effect from [an] increase in the number of network members arriving a year prior more than offsets the positive effects of an additional year of residence.”
- If there are many new refugees in a city, they compete against each other for work and drive down hourly wage rates. But a new refugee in a city with fewer newcomers and an established network faces less competition for work, pushing up hourly wages.
The researcher suggests that “a given network size may prove beneficial in some settings, while negative in others. Therefore, while the fact that refugee social networks provide labour market information to its members suggests a potential drawback to immigrant dispersal policies, dynamics are important to consider.”
Tags: employment, municipal
Read the issue-related Associated Press article titled "Many Illegal Immigrants Have Jobs in U.S. Before Crossing Border."
- What key insights from the article and the report should reporters be aware of as they cover issues related to jobs and immigration in the United States?
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?