The 1990s were marked by a greater dispersion of immigrants, Latino in particular, to new areas in the United States beyond the traditional gateway cities. North Carolina ranked at the top of states around the nation in the growth of new immigrant population. The influx to North Carolina and other receiving areas is having a profound impact in communities that had little if any previous experience with the foreign-born. For the most part, this migration to new communities took place during a time of expanding labor market opportunities in North Carolina, but this is rapidly changing. The most recent government statistics show that unemployment in the state is at 11 percent (well above the national average of nine and a half) and in some communities with the largest Latino populations, the unemployment rate is as high as 16 percent. This has the potential to re-shape the economic prospects of new immigrants and heighten the tensions between immigrants and their native-born neighbors.
With previous support from the Foundation, University of North Carolina economist Krista Perreira tracked a group of 240 Latino youth in North Carolina public schools throughout ninth grade, asking them about family and cultural identity, relationships with others in the community and their peer group, and their perceptions of opportunity. Overall, her survey and qualitative data showed that, despite some experiences of discrimination, youth and their parents frequently reported positive social interactions that left them feeling accepted by their communities, respected by their teachers and peers, and optimistic about the future.
With this Presidential award, Perreira will follow a sub-sample of students who took part in the qualitative interviews during ninth grade. Now in their late teens as they enter young adulthood, the students are beginning to make decisions about school, family, and the labor market in the context of rising unemployment, when inter-group conflict may be on the rise. Perreira will conduct follow-up, in-depth, qualitative interviews with youth and parent pairs from the first phase of data collection. In addition, Spencer Foundation co-funding will allow Perreira to increase her sample for the qualitative interviews. The resulting data will enable Perreira to look at inter-group differences by gender, rural-urban residence, and high school completion.