Of the 88,693 immigrants who are 25 years or older in Oklahoma City, nearly 40 percent do not have a high school or equivalent diploma, while 23.4 percent have graduated from college, according to the June 9 report by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, located in Washington, D.C.
However, immigrants’ education levels on the national stage are a different story. For the first time, working-age immigrants who have bachelor’s degrees (29.6 percent) outnumber those who lack a high school diploma (27.8 percent) in national census data. That’s a drastic change from 1980 when the percentage of immigrants without a high school diploma was nearly double those with college degrees.
Low-skilled immigrants boast higher employment and lower poverty rates than their U.S.-born counterparts but earn less, according to the report. “Low-skilled” are classified as not having a high school diploma, “mid-skilled” have a high school diploma, but not a college degree, and “high-skilled” have at least a college degree.
Using census data from the 1980 to 2010, the study assigned the OKC area the immigrant skill ratio of 59 high-skilled to every 100 low-skilled immigrants. OKC had the 25th lowest ratio of the 100 largest cities analyzed in the report — just ahead of Tulsa, which follows closely with 54-to-100, and behind Kansas City, Mo., which was assigned 85-to-100.
The study categorizes OKC as one of the 45 “low-immigration” destination areas in the U.S., along with Tulsa and Kansas City. Low-immigration metro areas include places with “modest immigration inflows or small foreign-born populations,” according to the report. The Dayton, Ohio, area has the highest-skilled ratio of the low-immigration areas with 330-to-100.
In low-immigration destinations, low-skilled immigrants are more than 50 percent likely to arrive from Mexico and 20 percent are likely to be English-proficient.
“We need better strategies to match qualified workers with appropriate jobs,” co-author Matthew Hall, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a statement.
State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said immigrants’ native educational systems were to blame for OKC’s low-skilled ratio in the report.
Cox’s office issued a press release June 6 saying the state’s entitlement system encourages native Oklahomans to not look for jobs that immigrants will gladly take to support their families.
“It’s really all about the jobs,” he told Oklahoma Gazette. “Those immigrants are coming up here to get jobs (and) to make money, so that they can better care for their families. They’re just like Americans — they want to have to provide a better life for their children.”
IMMIGRANT SKILLS RATIO
immigrant skill ratio
Oklahoma City area 7.2% 59
Cincinnati 3.8% 275
Tulsa 5.4% 52
Kansas City, Mo. 5.8% 85
Memphis, Tenn. 4.7% 103
Birmingham, Ala. 4% 122
Columbia, S.C. 4.4% 158