Abstract: Economic Adjustment Among Newly Resettled Refugees in the U.S (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Economic Adjustment Among Newly Resettled Refugees in the U.S

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Stacey Shaw, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Graeme Rodgers, PhD, Technical Advisor, Research, International Rescue Committee
Patrick Poulin, MSW, Regional Director, International Rescue Committee
Background and purpose: Refugee resettlement policy and services in the United States (U.S.) center on the aim of rapid economic self-sufficiency. Research examining the experiences of refugees resettled in the U.S. can guide and strengthen resettlement services and policy. This study examines economic outcomes over time, considering associated risk and protective factors. We hypothesize that economic outcomes such as employment, income, and independence from public benefits improve over time, and that economic adjustment is associated with individual characteristics.

Methods: Newly arrived adult refugees in two states located in the Western U.S. were invited to participate in a longitudinal study examining resettlement experiences. Those who chose to participate completed a survey at 6-months, 12-months, 24-months, and 36-months post arrival. Interviews were completed in person by trained enumerators who spoke the participant’s chosen language. Outcomes of interest included employment status, primary household income source, total household income, and whether participants felt their employment reflected their level of education (employment match). Participant characteristics assessed included household size, age, gender, marital status, English level, and education. To examine changes in outcomes over time, we used linear growth curve modeling with Mplus (v8.4). Bayesian estimation was adopted due to sample size and missing data. As the first step, models were run separately by state without covariates (unconditional model). Individual characteristics were included as covariates in the combined conditional model, to compare differences between states and examine the effects of participant characteristics on economic outcomes.

Results: A total of 243 unique participants completed at least one wave of the study. Half of the sample was female, and participants originated from 18 countries. By the final wave (3 years post arrival), 69% of participants were employed and 83% relied on salaried labor as their household’s main source of income. Participants in both states experienced a statistically significant increase over time in employment and household income. Participants in one state experienced an increase in independence from public benefits. In the other state, participants experienced a decrease in employment match. In the conditional model, the most pronounced personal factors included older age and being female, which were associated with poorer economic outcomes. English level and education were significantly associated with some outcomes, but did not have a consistent positive influence.

Conclusions and implications: Study findings point to the economic success experienced by refugees resettling in the U.S. Findings also highlight challenges that face many newcomers, particularly women, and indicate that many refugees work in lower income jobs, regardless of education and English level. Findings have implications for resettlement and social service personnel supporting refugee adjustment, and point to the value and limits of emphasizing economic self-sufficiency as the key resettlement outcome.