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Annual ORR Report to Congress - 2005: Reasons for Not Looking for Work

Published: May 7, 2014

Reasons for Not Looking for Work

The survey also asked refugees age 16 and over who were not employed why they were not looking for employment. Attending school accounted for the largest proportion (41 percent), with an associated median age of 18. Poor health accounted for another 24 percent, with an associated median age of 56. Age accounted for the third largest proportion (20 percent), with an associated median age of 68.

Child Care/Other Family Responsibilities was the next highest group at 18 percent. Furthermore, those citing Child Care/ Other Family Responsibilities, 71 percent were under the age of 40, and 100 percent were female. Limited English accounted for 12 percent with an associated median age of 58. Finally, a combination of “Couldn’t Find Job” and other answers (most often associated with poor health and age) accounted for an additional 4 percent.

Discouraged workers (persons who believed no work was available or who indicated they could not find a job) made up a relatively small fraction of refugees who did not work, with less than two percent of respondents selecting this reason. Approximately 19 percent of non-working refugees gave more than one reason for not looking for work.

Reasons for Not Looking For Work for Lost Boys: 2005 Survey

Figure 2 . Reason not looking for Work for Refugees 16 years and over: 2005 Survey.

(Chart note: Limited to refugees who did not work in previous year and are not looking for work at the time of the survey.)

*(Chart note: “Couldn’t find job” represents survey value, “Believes no work available/couldn’t find job’)

Work Experience in the Previous Year

A gauge of economic adjustment that shows a longer time frame than employment status (which only relates to employment during the week prior to the survey) is work experience, which measures not only the number of weeks worked in the past year, but the usual number of hours worked in a week.

As with employment status, the proportion of refugees with some work experience in the past year tends to increase with length of time in the U.S.

Table II-5 Work Experience of Adult Refugees in the 2005 Survey by Year of Arrival*
 

Number

Percent Distribution

Total Refugees 16 years and older

5,468

100.0

Worked*

3,542

64.8

50-52 weeks

2,121

38.8

Full-time

2,501

70.6**

Average weeks worked

42.9

 

2005 arrivals

415

100.0

Worked

213

51.4

50-52 weeks

0

0.0

Full-time

94

44.1

Average weeks worked

22.6

 

2004 arrivals

1,509

100.0

Worked

799

53.0

50-52 weeks

334

22.1

Full-time

623

77.9**

Average weeks worked

39.4

 

2003 arrivals

858

100.0

Worked

618

72.0

50-52 weeks**

386

44.9

Full-time

417

67.3**

Average weeks worked

43.3

 

2002 arrivals

858

100.0

Worked

570

66.4

50-52 weeks

406

47.3

Full-time

400

70.2**

Average weeks worked

44.9

 

2001 arrivals

1,078

100.0

Worked

824

76.5

50-52 weeks

603

56.0

Full-time

594

72.0**

Average weeks worked

45.5

 

2000 arrivals

749

100.0

Worked

516

68.9

50-52 weeks

393

52.5

Full-time

375

72.6**

Average weeks worked

46.6

 

*Refugees who worked in the year prior to the survey.

**Among refugees who worked in the previous year.

Table II-5 shows that only about 51 percent of refugees who arrived in 2005 had worked in the previous year, compared with 53 percent of those who arrived in the previous survey year. Unlike the employment status of refugees who arrived in 2004 and 2005, refugees who arrived in 2001-2003 recorded high rates of employment, with up to 73 percent of all arrivals during the survey year.

Refugees who reported working averaged 43 weeks of work during the survey year. This is consistent with previous surveys. Workers reported an average of 42 weeks of work the year before and 38 the year before that. The most recent (2005) arrivals averaged just 23 weeks of work during the previous 12 months. By contrast, last year’s arriving population reported working about 39 weeks this year and the well-established 2000 cohort reported 47 weeks of work.

Elapsed Time to First Job

How soon do refugees find work after coming to the U.S.? The 2005 survey indicates that of those who have worked at all since coming to the U.S. (about 78 percent of refugees 16 years old and over in the survey), about 17 percent found work within one month of arrival, 42 percent within the first three months, and 63 percent within six months. Another 18 percent found work in the next six months after arrival. Nineteen percent found their first job more than 12 months after arrival.

This represents a moderate pace of adjustment to the American job market and part of an on-going improvement for the past ten years. In the 1995 survey, for example, only 46 percent of job placements occurred in the first six months after arrival. The percentage taking more than a year to find first employment has similarly declined over the past decade. In the 2005 survey about 19 percent found their first job more than 12 months after arrival. This compares with the much longer time needed in 1995, when almost a third of job placement occurred after the first twelve months.

Factors Affecting Employment

Achieving economic self-sufficiency depends on the employment prospects of adult refugees, which

Percent of Refugees Who Worked in the Past Year to the Survey and Average Number of Weeks Worked by the Year of Arrival: 2005

 

Figure 3 . Percent of Adult Refugees who Worked in the Year Prior to the Survey and the Average Number of Weeks

Worked: 2005 Survey hinges on a mixture of factors including transferable skills, family size and composition (e.g., number of dependents to support), job opportunities, and the resources available in the communities in which refugees resettle. The occupational and educational skills that refugees bring with them to the U.S. also influence their prospects for self-sufficiency, as can cultural factors.

The average number of years of education for all arrivals was approximately nine (refer to Table II-6), one point down from the previous survey. A decline of a single year of education would not ordinarily cause consternation. However, it should be noted that all of the decline in the number of years between this year’s survey and last year’s survey (from a five-year average of 10.4 to 9.4 years) must arise from the responses of the most recent arrivals in this year’s survey and the fifth-year respondents of the previous survey. The data from this year’s survey confirms this—the number of years of education for the new arrivals in this year’s survey was reported at 7.4 years, nearly three years lower than the educational level recorded for refugees arriving in previous years and interviewed in last year’s survey.

Analysis of survey data revealed that the very low educational background of the first-time respondents was driven by the extremely low educational achievements of the Southeast Asian refugee group. Disaggregating from this group revealed that Hmong group from Laos recorded much lower years of education than all other groups. Their educational background consisted of only about 1.5 years of education,. compared with 9.5 for all other refugee groups. These data reflect the extremely difficult conditions and very poor educational opportunities available to this group due to their confinement in refugee camps for a long period of time.

In the 1993 survey, 24 percent of refugees in the five-year population had not earned a degree, even from primary school, at the time of arrival. By the time of the 2005 survey, the proportion without a primary school degree had dropped four percentage points to 21 percent. The educational achievement of two groups was noticeably weaker than average in this survey year. Fully 61 percent of refugees from Southeast Asia in the five-year population had not received a primary school degree before arrival, while 36 percent of African refugees were similarly handicapped. As with the number of years of education, this decline is entirely attributable to the very low responses of the first-year respondents: Over 37 percent of first-year respondents reported no degree at all, and another 34 percent could report no more than a primary school degree.

Elapsed Time to First Job for Refugees Who Have Ever Worked by Survey Year

 

Figure 4: Elapsed Time to First Job for Refugees Who Have Ever Worked by Survey Year.

The low academic achievement for the Southeast Asian group was the result of the influx of Hmong tribesmen from Laos. Eighty-five percent of Hmong adults had not finished primary school, and the remainder had not finished primary school. Only 20 percent of non-Hmong refugees had failed to achieve a primary school degree, while another 20 percent could report no more than a primary school degree.

The 1993 survey also revealed that 19 percent of refugees had earned a college or university degree before arrival. By the time of the 2005 survey, this proportion had slipped to 12 percent.

Overall, the pattern since 1993 is for stability in the overall number of years of education even as strong trends continue for more refugees with at least a basic education, but fewer refugees with a post-secondary degree.

The 2005 survey, however, revealed moderate disparities between the educational backgrounds among the six refugee groups formed from the survey respondents. The average years of education among ethnic groups ranged from a high of 12 for the Latin American population to a low of 6 for Southeast Asian population. Refugees from Southeast Asia (61 percent) and Africa (36 percent) showed the largest proportion with no formal education before arriving in the U.S. Among refugees from the former Soviet Union, this was very rare—only four percent of adult arrivals had failed to complete primary grades. Refugees from Latin America (8 percent) and the Eastern Europe (11 percent) had fairly high achievement as well.

Overall, only 40 percent of refugees in the five-year population had completed at least a high school degree. Former Soviet Union refugees (55 percent) were the most advanced followed by Latin America (52 percent) and Eastern Europe (41 percent). Only 12 percent from Southeast Asia could report a secondary or technical school degree or higher.

Overall, 12 percent of arriving refugees had completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree or other degree, such as a medical degree, prior to arrival in the U.S. Refugees from Latin American could claim the largest proportion of refugees with advanced degrees (22 percent). Many refugees continued their education toward a degree after arrival in the U.S. Overall, 13 percent attended high school, four percent completed school for an associate degree, and five percent completed college for a bachelor’s degree.

It should be noted that even though the survey asks about years of schooling and the highest degree obtained prior to coming to the U.S., the correlation between years of schooling and degrees or certifications among different countries is not necessarily the same. Consequently, some degree of caution is necessary when interpreting education statistics.

TABLE II-6 – Education and English Proficiency Characteristics of Selected Refugee Groups

Education and Language Proficiency

Africa

Eastern Europe

Latin America

Middle East

S.E. Asia

Former Soviet Union

 

All

Average Years of Education before U.S.

7.4

9.9

11.6

8.6

5.7

10.9

 

9.4

Highest Degree before U.S.

               

None

36.0%

10.6%

8.2%

19.6%

61.3%

4.1%

 

20.9%

Primary School

24.2

31.7

13.3

26.6

21.8

15.7

 

20.2

Training in Refugee Camp

0.3

1.9

0.3

0.5

0.0

1.1

 

0.6

Technical School

3.3

4.9

14.7

2.1

0.1

20.3

 

9.5

Secondary School (or High School)

23.9

36.3

37.7

35.6

12.3

34.3

 

30.7

University Degree (Other than Medical)

7.1

5.0

20.6

8.3

1.1

11.8

 

11.0

Medical Degree

0.3

0.4

0.7

0.1

0.1

0.7

 

0.5

Other

0.0

0.3

0.4

0.2

0.1

0.7

 

0.3

Attended School/University (since U.S.)

32.2

17.6

16.9

42.4

28.8

25.5

 

26.2

Attendance School/University (since U.S.) for degree/certificate

29.4

13.6

15.8

38.9

28.0

20.9

 

23.6

High School

18.0

5.9

6.4

19.0

22.5

10.0

 

12.9

Associates Degree

4.8

5.6

1.0

7.8

4.0

3.6

 

3.8

Bachelor’s Degree

5.9

1.4

5.5

10.2

0.9

3.7

 

4.9

Master’s/Doctorate

0.3

0.4

0.7

0.6

0.0

0.0

 

0.4

Professional Degree

0.2

0.1

0.3

0.0

0.1

0.4

 

0.2

Other

0.1

0.0

1.1

0.2

0.5

1.0

 

0.6

Degree Received

2.8

2.7

3.4

1.0

0.5

2.7

 

2.5

At Time of Arrival                

Percent Speaking no English

32.7

70.8

75.8

59.0

79.2

58.8

 

59.8

Percent Not Speaking English Well

28.2

14.7

15.1

25.4

15.6

26.2

 

21.7

Percent Speaking English Well or Fluently

35.6

6.9

5.6

11.4

2.9

4.9

 

13.3

At Time of Survey                

Percent Speaking no English

6.5

12.4

39.4

8.2

29.5

15.0

 

19.9

Percent Not Speaking English Well

23.8

31.7

37.2

30.4

54.0

39.9

 

35.0

Percent Speaking English Well or Fluently

68.7

55.5

23.0

60.7

16.3

45.1

 

44.7

Note: Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. These figures refer to self-reported characteristics of refugees. Professional degree refers to a law degree or medical degree.

The 2005 survey shows that refugees had made solid progress in learning English. Almost 60 percent of refugees in the 2005 survey reported speaking no English when they arrived in the U.S. (refer to Table II-6). At the time of arrival, majorities from Southeast Asia (79 percent), Latin America (76 percent), Eastern Europe (71 percent), and the Middle East (59 percent) spoke no English. On the other hand, of the African refugees, only 33 percent spoke no English at the time of arrival. This relative fluency among African refugees stems from the recent increased flow of refugees from English-speaking African nations.

Table II-7 – English Proficiency and Associated EPR By Year of Arrival  

Year of Arrival     Percent Speaking No English (EPR) Percent Not Speaking English Well (EPR) Percent Speaking English Well or Fluently (EPR)
At Time of Arrival

2005

63.5 (67.1)

15.2 (10.6)

19.7 (21.1)

2004

57.6 (36.7)

24.7 (64.3)

15.0 (66.1)

2003

54.0 (59.9)

22.8 (70.4)

19.2 (71.5)

2002

63.7 (57.0)

20.9 (61.0)

9.5 (66.1)

2001

59.3 (65.3)

22.3 (78.6)

10.4 (78.0)

2000

65.0 (59.1)

18.0 (75.0)

8.3 (75.8)

       

Total Sample

59.8 (54.8)

21.7 (66.0)

13.4 (65.0)

At Time of Survey

2005

31.5 (53.8)

40.6 (63.3)

27.9 (20.6)

2004

24.0 (35.2)

32.7 (37.5)

43.3 (62.9)

2003

16.6 (55.3)

31.3 (59.1)

52.0 (70.2)

2002

17.0(39.6)

41.1 (62.5)

40.8 (59.6)

2001

15.6 (59.9)

33.6 (72.3)

49.1 (69.3)

2000

18.2 (41.6)

35.5 (72.8)

46.3 (62.9)

       

Total Sample

19.9 (45.3)

35.0 (58.9)

44.7 (63.1)

Note: As of October 2005. Not seasonally adjusted. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. These figures refer to self-reported characteristics of refugees.

English fluency improved considerably by the time of the survey interview, with only 20 percent of all refugees speaking no English. In addition, many other refugees could now claim fluency. Sixty-nine percent of African refugees spoke fluently by the time of the interview, followed closely by refugees from the Middle East (61 percent) and Eastern Europe (56 percent). Overall, about 45 percent of the five-year population spoke English fluently at the time of the most recent survey. Overall, about 45 percent spoke English fluently at the time of the survey.

Many refugees, however, had failed to progress in this important skill. By the time of the interview, 39 percent of refugees from Latin America still spoke no English, followed by Southeast Asia (30 percent), the former Soviet Union (15 percent), Eastern Europe (12 percent), the Middle East (8 percent), and Africa (7 percent). Latin American refugees may have continued as monolingual speakers because a large portion of Cuban entrants reside in South Florida where English fluency is not always required for employment.

Furth er analysis revealed that the low fluency of the Southeast Asian refugee groups was driven in part by the low fluency of the Hmong tribesmen from Laos that arrived in great numbers during the survey year. Only eight percent of Hmong refugees spoke English fluently at the time of arrival in the U.S. compared with 14 percent of non-Hmong refugees. More importantly, fully 92 percent of Hmong refugees spoke no English at all upon arrival, compared with 59 percent of non-Hmong refugees.

The ability to speak English is one of the most important factors influencing the economic self-sufficiency of refugees (refer to Table II-7). Approximately half (45 percent) of all refugees indicated that they spoke English well or fluently (at the time of the survey). Another 35 percent indicated that they did not speak English well, while 20 percent reported that they spoke no English at all.

There was a moderate difference in the employment rate due to speaking no English. Those speaking English fluently had an EPR of 63 percent, while those speaking no English had an EPR of 45 percent.

Historically, most refugees improve their English proficiency over time. Those who do not are the least likely to be employed.

During the past 12 months, 29 percent of all refugees attended English Language Training (ELT) outside of high school (see Table II-8). The refugee groups were closely clustered around this rate, with only the refugees from Eastern Europe (9 percent) and Southeast Asia (47 percent) deviating much. For the same period, the proportion of refugees who have attended job-training classes (6 percent) lags far behind ELT (29 percent). Overall, most refugee groups were job ready. Only six percent of all survey respondents needed to attend job training (refer to Table II-8). Eleven percent of Latin American refugees and 6 percent of African refugees attended job training since arrival, significantly higher than other refugee groups, none of which exceeded 4 percent.

Earnings and Utilization of Public Assistance

The earnings of employed refugees generally rise with length of residence in the U.S. (refer to Table II-9). For 2005 arrivals, the average hourly wage was $7.28.12 For 2000 arrivals, the average 2005 hourly wage was $10.41 per hour (a difference of 3 percent) for those in the 2005 survey. The overall hourly wage of employed refugees in the five-year population was $8.80. This represents a slight decrease from the overall average rate in the 2004 survey ($8.90), but it is consistent with previous years with $8.90 and $8.83 reported in the 2001 and 2000 surveys, respectively, not adjusting for inflation. It is a slight retreat from the 2002 survey year, which reported an overall annual wage of $9.37.

Another way of looking at these earnings data is to follow refugees who arrived in the same year over time. For example, in the 2005 survey, the average wage for 2005 arrivals was only $7.28. But earlier refugee arrivals gain higher wages from their job experience and greater English language proficiency. This year’s survey showed an average wage of $8.01 per hour for last year’s arrivals, $8.56 for 2003 arrivals, $9.02 for 2002 arrivals, $9.23 for 2001 arrivals, and $10.41 for 2000 arrivals.

From the 2005 survey, the overall hourly wage of employed refugees who spoke English well or fluently at the time of the survey was an average of $9.07, compared to $8.89 for refugees who did not speak English well, and $7.95 for refugees who did not speak English at all. Upon closer examination, refugees who spoke English well or fluently at the time of the survey accounted for 50 percent of jobs that paid over $7.50 per hour, compared to 34 percent of refugees who did not speak English well, and 16 percent of refugees who did not speak English at all.

Finally, the number of refugees who reported home ownership also appears to rise with length of residence. Overall, 20 percent of refugees interviewed in the 2005 survey reported home ownership. Only nine percent of recent arrivals could report home ownership, but refugees who had arrived in previous years showed sharply higher rates of home ownership, reaching 32 percent for 2000 arrivals.

Table II-10 details the economic self‑sufficiency of the five‑year sample population. According to the 2005 survey, almost 69 percent of all refugee households in the U.S. achieved economic self‑sufficiency, relying only on earnings for their needs. This is a marginal increase from the previous four years, which averaged about 66 percent. An additional 18 percent had achieved partial independence, with household income a mix of earnings and public assistance (equal to the 2003 survey, and a slight decline from the percentages reported in the 2000 – 2001 surveys). For another 9 percent of refugee households, however, cash income in 2005 consisted entirely of public assistance.

TABLE II-8 – Service Utilization by Selected Refugee Groups and for Year of Arrival

Type of Service Utilization Africa Eastern Europe Latin America Middle East S.E. Asia Former Soviet Union All

ELT since arrival Inside High School

11.7%

5.2%

4.1%

16.4%

19.3%

9.2%

9.9%

ELT since arrival Outside of High School

28.7

8.5

31.1

28.2

47.1

28.3

29.4

Job training since arrival

6.3

2.6

11.2

2.0

4.2

3.1

6.0

Currently attending ELT Inside High School

11.7

5.2

4.1

16.4

19.3

9.2

9.9

Currently attending ELT Outside of High School

13.2

5.5

11.4

12.3

29.4

14.0

13.8

               

Type of Service Utilization by Year of Arrival

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

All

ELT since arrival Inside High School

6.3%

13.3%

9.0%

9.3%

9.0%

8.0%

9.9%

ELT since arrival Outside of High School

41.1

39.0

28.2

20.8

23.3

23.4

29.4

Job training since arrival

6.0

6.8

5.9

6.6

5.8

4.0

6.0

Currently attending ELT Inside High School

6.3

13.3

9.0

9.3

9.0

8.0

9.9

Currently attending ELT Outside of High School

17.5

20.9

13.1

8.4

10.1

9.8

13.8

Note: Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees on all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. In order that English language training (ELT) not be confused with English high school instruction, statistics for both populations are given.

The 2005 survey findings in the Public Assistance Only category reflect a slight increase from the 2004 survey (7 percent), which was the lowest seen in this category since 1998. The low rates of Public Assistance Only cases coupled with an increase in Earnings Only cases may indicate that refugees are finding it easier to adjust to the U.S. workforce. Hourly wages, home ownership, and self- sufficiency for the most recent five surveys are contained in Table II-10. While there are year-to-year fluctuations because of the different mix of

refugee demographics and skill levels, economic self-sufficiency tends to increase with time in the U.S., although largely within the first two years.

Table II-11 details several types of household characteristics by income. Households receiving only public assistance average three members and no wage earners, while those with a mix of earnings and assistance income average five members and two wage earners. Households that receive no public assistance likewise generally contained two wage-earners. It is noteworthy that the Public Assistance Only category had the fewest number of households with children. Typically, there is a positive correlation between the number of households with children and the number of households utilizing public assistance only. However, in this case, the negative correlation may be due to the high proportion of Public Assistance Only households that consist of aged refugees receiving Supplemental Security Income.

TABLE II-9 – Hourly Wages, Home Ownership, and Self-Sufficiency by Year of Arrival: 2005 Survey

Year of Arrival Hourly Wages of Employed -Current Job Own Home or Apartment Rent Home or Apartment Public Assistance Only Both Public Assistance and Earnings Earnings Only

2005

$7.28

8.9%

91.1%

5.1%

24.4%

61.9%

2004

8.01

6.3

92.3

13.2

19.7

58.5

2003

8.56

18.2

78.9

7.3

15.3

75.3

2002

9.01

31.6

66.7

8.2

18.5

69.9

2001

9.23

26.1

73.1

5.8

15.8

76.3

2000

10.41

31.6

67.1

10.5

17.0

68.5

             

Total Sample

8.80

20.2

78.4

9.0

17.9

68.5

Note: Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. These figures refer to self-reported characteristics of refugees.

English language proficiency was lowest in welfare dependent households. Only eight percent of these households contained one or more persons fluent in English. In contrast, about 24 percent of households with a mix of earnings and assistance reported at least one fluent English speaker. Twenty-four percent of households with earnings income only reported at least one fluent English speaker. Again, the relationship between English language proficiency and income seems to suggest that refugees are more likely to be self-sufficient when they are proficient in English.

Medical Coverage

Overall, 22 percent of adult refugees in the 2005 survey lacked medical coverage of any kind throughout the year preceding the survey (refer to Table II-12). Lack of medical coverage varied widely among the six refugee groups, with Eastern European refugees reporting only 13 percent without medical coverage and refugees from Latin America without medical coverage at any point during the survey year reaching 35 percent of the population.

TABLE II-10 – Average Hourly Wages, Home Ownership, and Public Assistance by Survey Year

Year of Survey Average Hourly Wages of Employed Own Home or Apartment Rent Home or Apartment Public Assistance Only Both Public Assistance and Earnings Earnings Only

2005 Survey

$8.80

20.2%

78.4%

9.0%

17.9%

68.5%

2004 Survey

8.90

17.4

79.4

7.4

18.2

71.0

2003 Survey

9.20

18.7

79.0

9.3

19.6

61.6

2002 Survey

9.37

13.4

85.7

8.7

18.7

68.8

2001 Survey

8.90

7.2

91.9

14.0

21.9

62.7

2000 Survey

8.83

8.2

90.0

12.4

20.3

65.2

             

Note: As of October 2005, October 2004, October 2003, October 2002, October 2001, and 2000. Earnings figures are not adjusted for inflation. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who were interviewed as a part of the 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000 surveys.

Table II-11 – Characteristics of Households by Type of Income
Refugee Households with:

Household Characteristics Public Assistance Only Both Public Assistance and Earnings Earnings Only Total Sample

Average Household Size

3.2

4.7

4.1

4.1

Average Number of wage earners per household*

0.0

1.9

2.0

1.7

Percent of households with at least one member:

Under the age of 6

12.1%

26.5%

29.7%

27.3%

Under the age of 16

38.3

64.6

63.8

61.5

Fluent English Speaker **

7.6

23.7

23.6

22.0

*Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. Refugee households with neither earnings nor assistance are excluded.

** English fluency at time of the survey.

TABLE II-12 – Source of Medical Coverage for Selected Refugee Groups and for Year of Arrival

Source of Medical Coverage Africa Eastern Europe Latin America Middle East S.E. Asia Former Soviet Union All

No Medical Coverage in any of past 12 months

16.6%

12.8%

35.0%

18.2%

19.5%

16.4%

21.5%

Medical Coverage through employer

23.2

50.1

20.8

10.1

16.0

17.2

21.5

Medicaid or RMA

46.5

13.8

27.3

41.4

56.7

46.3

39.3

Source of Medical Coverage by Year of Arrival

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

All

No Medical Coverage in any of the past 12 months

2.8%

23.0%

22.6%

22.3%

26.3%

19.8%

21.5%

Medical Coverage through Employer

5.8

10.4

25.7

25.2

31.8

28.8

21.5

Medicaid or RMA

88.1

49.6

30.4

32.1

21.8

35.0

39.3

Note: As of October 2005. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005.

The proportion of refugees without medical coverage has varied greatly over the past several years, ranging from a low of eight percent for the 2000 survey to a high of 22 percent in this year’s survey. The proportion has steadily eroded since then, the result of the trends discussed earlier. It appears that the influx of low-skill refugees, with fewer years of schooling and lower English language training has resulted in lower employment rates, lower wages, and fewer or non-existent work benefits.

The 2005 survey revealed that only 22 percent of refugee families had obtained medical coverage through an employer, down ten points in just one year. This continues a disturbing trend which has seen employment-related coverage decrease by two-thirds over the past five years, tumbling from a high of 61 percent in the 2000 survey (refer to Table II-13). Refugees from Eastern Europe were the most likely to have medical coverage through employment (50 percent), followed by African refugees (23 percent) and Latin American refugees (21 percent). All other refugee groups fared much worse, with none exceeding 17 percent and coverage for refugees from the Middle East as low as ten percent. These findings are consistent with the associated EPR for each refugee group excluding Latin America, which had a relatively high EPR (71 percent) and a low percentage of refugees who received insurance coverage through their employer. This suggests that although refugees from Latin America are employed, they most likely are not eligible or have not been extended medical benefits through their employer.

Not surprisingly, given the dramatic decline in employment-related coverage over the past year, medical coverage through Medicaid or RMA continued its long ascent. Public medical coverage has increased from 26 to 39 percent over the past decade, with eight points recorded in just the past year. This finding is consistent with the EPR for year 2005 which showed a decreased employment rate of 58 percent versus 63 percent in last year’s survey.

Medical coverage through Medicaid or RMA varied widely between refugee groups. Coverage was highest for Southeast Asia (57 percent), Africa (47 percent), the former Soviet Union (46 percent), and Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who were interviewed as a part of the 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000.

TABLE II-13 – Source of Medical Coverage for Selected Refugee Groups by Year of Survey

Year of Survey   Africa   Eastern Europe   Latin America   Middle East   S.E. Asia   Former Soviet Union   Vietnam     All  
No Medical Coverage in any of past 12 months

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Survey

16.6%

12.8%

35.0%

18.2%

19.5%

16.4%

-

21.5%

2004 Survey

11.8

17.3

40.4

21.3

9.9

3.8

-

17.9

2003 Survey

12.6

10.8

32.0

0.0

33.3

5.4

-

16.1

2002 Survey

15.5

13.4

38.8

24.7

0.0

11.7

2.9

17.4

2001 Survey

11.9

9.3

24.9

12.0

15.8

5.0

12.7

11.5

2000 Survey

15.1

8.8

7.8

7.6

4.7

6.4

5.1

7.9

Medical Coverage Through Employer            

2005 Survey

23.2%

50.1%

20.8%

10.1%

16.0%

17.2%

-

21.5%

2004 Survey

46.5

56.6

15.1

18.1

43.7

13.5

-

33.1

2003 Survey

42.2

56.4

27.7

2.4

8.7

14.7

-

29.9

2002 Survey

68.0

60.8

40.6

74.7

97.6

88.0

90.7

68.8

2001 Survey

47.1

78.7

33.5

46.5

73.0

24.5

72.7

50.3

2000 Survey

59.9

73.9

52.7

71.5

56.1

34.3

84.6

61.0

Medicaid or RMA

             

2005 Survey

46.5%

13.8%

27.3%

41.4%

56.7%

46.3%

-

39.3%

2004 Survey

25.8

17.4

19.2

48.7

44.7

53.3

-

31.3

2003 Survey

23.8

21.1

19.2

88.9

28.6

63.4

-

36.3

2002 Survey

31.2

19.5

26.1

60.8

11.2

61.4

9.0

34.6

2001 Survey

35.7

10.4

33.1

34.3

9.9

62.3

13.7

33.0

2000 Survey

24.3

12.7

23.6

19.9

39.2

52.7

10.1

25.5

Note: As of October 2005 , October 2004, October 2003, October 2002, October 2001, and October 2000. Not seasonally adjusted.

Middle East (41 percent) and lowest for Eastern Latin America (27 percent) and Europe (14 percent).

As a general rule, medical coverage through employment increases with time in the U.S., and medical coverage through government aid programs declines with time in the U.S. This is illustrated by the 2005 survey (see Table II-12).

While 2005 arrivals reported a very high utilization rate for Medicaid and RMA in their first year (88 percent), this rate declined for refugees who arrived in previous years, with utilization declining to 35 percent for 2000 arrivals. Only six percent of these recent arrivals reported medical coverage through an employer in the 2005 survey. This rate rose steadily with time in the country, but did not exceed one-third for any cohort, even for 2000 arrivals.

Only three percent of the most recent (2005) arrivals reported no coverage of any type during the past year, undoubtedly due to their eligibility for the Medicaid and Refugee Medical Assistance programs which cover almost all refugees during the early months after arrival. Eligibility for needs-based medical programs is not available for long, however, and the number of individuals not covered quickly rises as refugees exhaust their eligibility and begin employment, often without medical benefits. In the 2005 survey, the number of refugees without coverage exceeded 20 percent for groups arriving in previous years.

Refugee Welfare Utilization

As in previous years, welfare utilization varied considerably among refugee groups. Table II-14 presents welfare utilization data on the households of the six refugee groups formed from the survey respondents.

Non‑cash assistance was generally higher than cash assistance, probably because Medicaid, food stamp, and housing assistance programs, though available to cash assistance households, are also available more broadly to households without children. Just over 53 percent of refugee households reported receiving food stamps in the previous 12 months, an all-time higher proportion of the five-year population. This compares with 40, 47, 34, 36, and 29 percentages reported in the previous five surveys. Food stamp utilization was lowest among the Eastern Europeans (25 percent) but quite a bit higher for the other groups, reaching 66 percent among the refugees from Southeast Asia.

In the 2005 survey, 11 percent of refugee households reported that they receive housing assistance, up marginally from the previous surveys, which averaged ten percent excluding 2003, which was 15 percent. Housing assistance for refugees showed similar diversity—a minimum of two percent for Eastern Europeans and as high as 16 percent for the former Soviet Union.

Table II-14 also reveals that 27 percent of refugee households surveyed in 2005 had received some kind of cash assistance in at least one of the previous 12 months.13 This represents an increase of one percentage point from the 2004 survey. The 2002, 2001, and 2000 surveys, respectively, had an increase of 2, 10, and 7 percent. Overall, receipt of any cash assistance was highest for the Middle East (44 percent) and the former Soviet Union (42 percent) and lowest for Latin America (16 percent), Eastern Europe (19 percent) and Africa (22 percent) each.

Five percent of all refugee households had received TANF in the last 12 months, five points less than 2004 and the exact number reported in the 2003 survey.14 Utilization ranged from a high of 17 percent for the Middle East to a low of zero percent for Southeast Asia. Utilization was five percent for the former Soviet Union and two percent for the Eastern Europe, respectively. Seven percent of sampled households received RCA in 2005, four percentage points more than in 2004.

Fourteen percent of refugee households had at least one household member who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in the past twelve months. This rate is the same as 2004 and eight points lower than 1998, probably due to the lower proportion of arrivals from the former Soviet Union. Utilization has varied largely according to the number of refugees over age 65, and refugee families from the former Soviet Union have historically included aged and retired household members.

Refugee households from the former Soviet Union (32 percent) and Southeast Asia ( 20 percent) were found to utilize SSI most often. In the 2005 survey, eight percent of the refugees who came to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union in the past five years were aged 65 or over. By contrast, five percent of the refugees from Latin America, three percent of the refugees from Southeast Asia, two percent from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and less than two percent of the refugees from Africa were 65 or over. The median age for the six refugee groups (16 years old and older) ranged from a low of 25 years for Africa to 39 years for the former Soviet Union.

TABLE II-14 – Public Assistance Utilization of Selected Refugee Groups

Type of Public Assistance   Africa   Eastern Europe Latin America Middle East S.E. Asia Former Soviet Union All

Cash Assistance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any Type of Cash Assistance

22.1%

18.9%

16.0%

44.1%

34.7%

41.8%

26.8%

               

AFDC/TANF

4.5

2.0

3.3

16.9

0.0

4.6

4.6

RCA

8.4

2.5

6.3

7.8

11.2

5.1

6.9

SSI

7.1

14.0

6.2

17.5

19.6

31.5

14.1

General Assistance

3.0

1.7

1.7

8.2

3.9

5.5

3.5

Non-cash Assistance              

Medicaid or RMA

46.5

13.8

27.3

41.4

56.7

46.3

39.3

Food Stamps

60.7

25.4

45.2

53.5

65.6

58.8

52.7

Housing

15.7

2.2

6.6

12.9

12.6

16.3

11.4

Note: Data refers to refugee households in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005. Medicaid and RMA data refers to adult refugees age 16 and over. All other data refers to refugee households and not individuals. Many households receive more that one type of assistance.

General Assistance (also called General Relief or Home Relief in some States) is a form of cash assistance funded entirely with State or local funds.

It generally provides assistance to single persons, childless couples, and families with children that are not eligible for TANF. The 2005 survey reported that about four percent of refugee households received some form of GA during the past twelve months. Refugees from the Middle East showed the highest utilization rate (8 percent) followed by the former Soviet Union (6 percent) and Southeast Asia (4 percent). The low utilization by refugees from Latin America (1.7 percent) may be related to their concentration in Florida, which has no State-funded General Assistance program.

The relationship between employment and receipt of welfare (cash assistance) varied across refugee groups. Refugees from Latin America (16 percent), Eastern Europe (19 percent), and Africa (22 percent) showed relatively low welfare utilization and a high EPR (71 percent, 75 percent, and 61 percent, respectively—see Table II-4).

Tables II-4 and II-14, when read together, illustrate that refugees from the former Soviet Union showed a relatively high welfare utilization rate (42 percent) and the lowest employment rates (47.5 percent). Refugees from Southeast Asia and the Middle East showed a high welfare utilization rate (35 and 44 percent, respectively) and yet a high EPR (36 and 46 percent, respectively). This may relate to their family composition and living arrangements whereby younger workers share a household with elderly parents receiving SSI. It is noteworthy that there was a substantial increase in the welfare utilization rates for the Latin American (8 percent) and a decrease in Southeast Asian (8 percent) refugee populations as compared to 2004 where the rates were 8 percent and 27 percent respectively.

Employment and Welfare Utilization Rates by State

The 2005 survey also reported welfare utilization and employment rate by State of residence. Table II-16 shows the EPR and utilization rates for various types of welfare for twelve States, as well as the nation as a whole. Unlike Table II-14, which computes welfare utilization rates for entire households,

TABLE II-15 – Public Assistance Utilization of Selected Refugee Groups by Year of Survey

Year Survey Administered Africa Eastern Europe Latin America Middle East S.E. Asia Former Soviet Union Vietnam All
Any Type of Cash Assistance            

2005 Survey

22.1%

18.9%

16.0%

44.1%

34.7%

41.8%

-

26.8%

2004 Survey

25.5

16.8

8.4

48.7

26.5

44.1

-

25.6

2003 Survey

24.3

21.5

21.9

9.5

49.0

50.1

-

28.9

2002 Survey

22.5

16.6

14.9

27.1

60.0

55.4

17.1

27.4

2001 Survey

39.6

10.6

38.9

45.9

30.0

61.9

13.6

35.9

2000 Survey

38.4

18.1

27.4

29.5

46.0

55.4

22.8

32.7

Medicaid or RMA                

2005 Survey

46.5%

13.8%

27.3%

41.4%

56.7%

46.3%

-

39.3%

2004 Survey

25.8

17.4

19.2

48.7

44.7

53.3

-

31.3

2003 Survey

23.8

21.1

19.2

88.9

28.6

63.4

-

36.3

2002 Survey

31.2

19.5

26.1

60.8

11.2

61.4

9.0

34.6

2001 Survey

35.7

10.4

33.1

34.4

9.9

62.3

13.7

33.0

2000 Survey

24.3

12.7

23.6

19.9

39.2

52.7

10.1

25.5

Food Stamps                

2005 Survey

60.7%

25.4%

45.2%

53.5%

65.6%

58.8%

-

52.7%

2004 Survey

39.6

19.4

32.9

51.0

56.2

61.0

-

40.6

2003 Survey

45.4

27.8

37.6

32.5

73.2

62.0

-

46.4

2002 Survey

35.6

22.5

28.6

47.5

17.8

54.0

11.5

33.5

2001 Survey

42.5

10.0

45.2

35.0

40.0

59.4

13.2

35.8

2000 Survey

28.5

19.5

33.9

14.5

31.2

52.0

1.3

28.5

Public Housing                

2005 Survey

15.7%

2.2%

6.6%

12.9%

12.6%

16.3%

-

11.4%

2004 Survey

26.6

1.9

5.9

16.6

5.5

11.9

-

12.3

2003 Survey

24.8

6.8

3.8

2.4

51.6

27.5

-

14.9

2002 Survey

23.5

7.3

6.4

1.3

0.0

22.7

2.1

11.7

2001 Survey

21.8

3.2

3.6

4.0

0.0

21.7

2.3

10.2

2000 Survey

23.2

6.9

4.0

7.2

21.2

26.5

1.3

12.1

Note: Data refers to refugee households in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who were interviewed as a part of the 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000 surveys. Medicaid and RMA data refer to adult refugees age 16 and over. All other data refer to refugee households and not individuals. Many households received more than one type of assistance. Due to low arrivals, the refugee groups “ Vietnam” and “Other Southeast Asia” were merged for survey year 2005.

TABLE II-16 – Employment-to-Population Ratio (EPR) and Welfare Dependency for Top Twelve States
Percent of Individuals (vs. Households) on Welfare

State Arrivals* Individuals EPR Individual TANF Households RCA Households SSI Households GA Households Total** Households

Florida

(1,791)

73.0%

2.8%

5.3%

6.9%

1.7%

15.9%

California

(940)

47.0

6.0

5.7

31.6

12.7

51.8

New York

(597)

54.0

0.0

0.4

18.7

5.8

23.4

Washington

(525)

49.1

5.6

7.9

20.0

1.5

32.6

Minnesota

(471)

28.2

10.8

0.0

11.2

0.6

22.6

Texas

(429)

55.1

1.6

10.4

15.0

8.9

36.0

Georgia

(301)

60.9

11.1

0.0

5.4

0.0

15.2

Pennsylvania

(280)

64.5

7.3

3.6

25.5

13.9

32.8

NorthCarolina

(267)

58.6

2.0

17.6

12.0

0.0

29.7

Oregon

(211)

53.5

6.0

0.0

23.0

0.0

23.0

Idaho

(195)

80.1

3.7

0.0

8.3

0.0

11.9

Arizona

(188)

47.4

0.0

23.5

12.6

1.5

36.1

Other States

(,2142)

56.2

5.3

8.1

16.0

1.6

29.5

All States

(8,336)

58.0

4.6

6.9

14.1

3.5

26.8

*The State arrival figures are weighted totals of individuals.

**The column totals represent percent of individuals who received any combination of AFDC, RCA, SSI and/or GA, e.g., if an individual received AFDC, RCA, SSI, and GA, he/she is counted four times.

Note: As of October 2005. Welfare utilization refers to receipt of public assistance in at least one of the past twelve months. The listed utilization rate for each type of public assistance is in terms of individual households in which one or more people (including minor children) received in the five-year sample population residing in that State. Because some refugees have difficulty distinguishing between GA and TANF, some GA utilization may reflect TANF utilization. For data on welfare utilization by household, see Table 14. Due to the small number of households in each state, except for the top five, estimates about the use of public assistance are subject to a large sampling error.

Table II-16 presents data on utilization by individual refugees (including children). The EPR was generally high where welfare utilization was low and vice versa. Specifically, in States with a high refugee employment rate like Idaho (80 percent), Florida (73 percent), and Georgia (61 percent), welfare utilization among refugees was low, 12, 16, and 15 percent, respectively.

However, many States showed a high EPR and a high rate of welfare utilization. For example Pennsylvania (65 percent), North Carolina (59 percent), and Texas (55 percent) scored not only high EPRs but also relatively high welfare utilization rates—33 percent, 30 percent, and 36 percent, respectively.

Georgia , Minnesota, and Pennsylvania showed the highest proportion of TANF utilization (11, 11, 7 percent, respectively). Arizona (24 percent), North Carolina (18 percent), and Texas (10 percent) showed the highest proportion of RCA utilization. Pennsylvania, followed by Oregon and Washington, showed the highest proportion of SSI utilization (26, 23, and 20 percent, respectively). Pennsylvania , followed by California, showed the highest GA utilization (14 and 13 percent, respectively).

Overall, findings from ORR’s 2005 survey indicate (as in previous years) that refugees face significant problems upon arrival in the United States. In previous years, we reported that the data described a process where refugees readily accepted entry level employment and moved toward economic self-sufficiency in their new country. Data also showed continued progress of most refugee households toward self-sufficiency, tied to factors such as education, English proficiency, and such characteristics as age at time of arrival and family support.

All in all, past surveys have described a consistent process of advancement, slow at first, and halting for some, but sustained nevertheless, toward integration with the American mainstream. The 2005 survey, in contradistinction, describes a much more serious struggle. The 2005 survey reveals a definite turndown in refugee resettlement advancement as measured by the general labor force participation and welfare utilization data. The survey indicates that the educational background of the five-year refugee population is substantially weaker than that reported in previous surveys. Fewer refugees have finished higher school, and fewer still have finished a college degree. A smaller proportion of arriving refugees can speak English fluently and a higher proportion speak no English at all. This has translated into lower labor force participation, as measured by the employment rate which has retreated from 62 percent in the 2004 survey to 58 percent this year.

Moreover, the jobs that refugees find are of poorer quality than seen in previous surveys. This year the average age declined about five percent from the year before after considering the effects of inflation. Even more troubling is the dramatic decline in employer-related health benefits: Five years ago, two-thirds of respondents could claim such coverage; today, only one-fifth can make that claim.

Nev ertheless, there is room for optimism in this report. As the survey data have shown, the decreasing employment and lower self-sufficiency rates appear to be a result of the policy to welcome refugee groups with decidedly poor employment and self-sufficiency prospects, rather than any defect in the resettlement system. Even with all the barriers and obstacles detailed in this section, refugees are entering the work force at a fairly high rate and their rates of welfare utilization have not moved up. Refugee food stamp utilization is at an all-time high, but there is no evidence of sustained cash assistance dependency developing among arriving refugee groups. Other groups with meager job skills or educational backgrounds have arrived here in the 25 years since the Refugee Resettlement Program was created and have resettled successfully. While it is true that the employment rate of the current five-year population has retreated to 58 percent this year, it is also true that it had never reached that level until the 1999 survey. The earlier surveys that recorded lower employment rates, indeed much lower employment rates, also described a process of advancement and economic progress after initial difficulty. Each survey since the inception of the program has documented that refugee family economic adjustment improves the longer a family lives in the U.S., and we expect further progress in the future.

Technical Note: The ORR Annual Survey, with interviews conducted by DB Consulting Group, Inc. in the fall of 2005, is the 34th in a series conducted since 1975. Until 1993, the survey was limited to Southeast Asian refugees. A random sample was selected from the ORR Refugee Data File. ORR’s contractor, DB Consulting Group, Inc. contacted the family by a letter in English and a second letter in the refugee's native language. If the person sampled was a child, an adult living in the same household was interviewed. Interviews were conducted by telephone in the refugee’s native language. The questionnaire and interview procedures were essentially the same between the 1981 survey and the 1992 survey, except that beginning in 1985 the sample was expanded to a five‑year population consisting of refugees from Southeast Asia who had arrived over the most recent five years.

In 1993, the survey was expanded beyond the Southeast Asian refugee population to include refugee, Amerasian, and entrant arrivals from all regions of the world. Each year a random sample of new arrivals is identified and interviewed. In addition, refugees who had been included in the previous year’s survey--but had not resided in the U.S. for more than five years--are again contacted and interviewed for the new survey. Thus, the survey continuously tracks the progress of a randomly selected sample of refugees over their initial five years in this country. This permits comparison of refugees arriving in different years, as well as the relative influence of experiential and environmental factors on refugee progress toward self‑sufficiency across five years.

For the 2005 survey, 1,227 households were contacted and interviewed. Refugees included in the 2004 survey who had not yet resided in the U.S. for five years were again contacted and interviewed along with a new sample of refugees, Amerasians, and entrants who had arrived between May 1, 2004 and April 30, 2005. Of the 2,902 re-interview cases from the 2004 sample, 1,146 were contacted and interviewed, and 89 were contacted, but refused to be interviewed. The remaining 1,756 re‑interview cases could not be traced in time to be interviewed. Of the 532 new interview cases, 81 were contacted and interviewed, another three were contacted, but refused to cooperate, and the remaining 451 could not be traced in time to be interviewed. The resulting responses were then weighted according to year of entry and ethnic category.

In addition, of the 1,756 re-interview cases that could not be traced in time to be interviewed, five were deceased, 31 moved back to their native country, and 1,241 households had wrong or disconnected phone numbers. Of the 451 new interview cases that could not be traced in time to be interviewed, 60 households had wrong or disconnected phone numbers.

[12] The average hourly pay for all full-time workers in the U.S. in 2003 was $18.09.

[13] Caution must be exercised when reviewing refugee declarations of welfare utilization. These are self-reported data and are subject to wide variation in interpretation by the respondent. The surveys are conducted in the refugee's native language, and certain technical terms which distinguish types of income do not translate well into foreign languages. Refugees readily admit to receiving "welfare" or "assistance", but they are frequently confused about the correct category. Past surveys have found that refugee households are very accurate in reporting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because their claims are handled by the Social Security Administration. However, RCA, TANF, and GA cases are all handled by the local county welfare office and are not clearly distinguished from each other by the refugee family. Over the years, we have noted that many refugees claim RCA many years after arrival even though the program is confined to the first eight months in the U.S., claim receipt of TANF even though they have no children, or claim receipt of general relief even though they reside in States that do not provide such assistance, such as Florida or Texas.
[14] The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was created by Congress in 1996 to provide cash assistance to needy families with children, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

 

Last Reviewed: June 24, 2019