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Children of Immigrants: National and State Characteristics

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Document date: May 13, 2009
Released online: August 26, 2009

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full report in PDF format.


Up-to-date state information on children of immigrants is essential for social policies that affect children and families. This brief, accompanying the Urban Institute's interactive Children of Immigrants Data Tool, describes the national and state characteristics of children of immigrants based on recent American Community Survey data. Since children of immigrants account for almost a quarter (24 percent) of children under age 5, their share in the school-age population will increase, with important implications for education policy. In addition, children of immigrants' poverty and low-income rates vary across states, highlighting the importance of state and local policies in promoting children's well-being.

Also visit the interactive Children of Immigrants Data Tool for comprehensive information on the characteristics of children of immigrants nationwide and for individual states and the District of Columbia.


In 2007, about 16.4 million children, or more than one in five children in the United States, had at least one immigrant parent.1 The number of children of immigrants doubled from 8 million in 1990, and their share of all children age 0 to 17 increased from 13 to 23 percent during this period. This large demographic group deserves particular attention because its growth has important implications for federal, state, and local education, health, housing, and family policies. Children of immigrants are also likely to represent a large share of the nation's future labor force. In addition, children of immigrants deserve special attention because they face many universal risk factors to children's well-being, such as lower parental education and family incomes, but they are also adversely affected by factors unique to immigration, such as lack of parental citizenship and English proficiency (Capps et al. 2004; Hernandez 2004).

Yet, no single portrait of children of immigrants holds for every state. Diverse groups of immigrants have dispersed in large numbers to states with historically few immigrants. States also have differing policies for integrating newcomers. While children of immigrants make up 23 percent of all children nationwide, their shares vary significantly by state; children of immigrants make up close to 50 percent of children in California but only 8 percent of children in Arkansas. Similarly, the rate at which their shares grew between 1990 and 2007 varies across states; it more than doubled in Nevada (from 15 to 34 percent) but increased by only a third in Rhode Island (from 18 to 24 percent). Nevertheless, there are also similarities across states; for example, young children are more likely than older children to have immigrant parents.

Up-to-date state information on the characteristics and population size of children of immigrants is essential for planning and implementing educational, health, housing, labor, and other social programs that affect children, their families, and other residents. This brief, a companion to the Urban Institute's new interactive Children of Immigrants Data Tool, provides a glimpse of the national and state characteristics of children of immigrants based on 2005 and 2006 American Community Survey data.2 This brief highlights national findings and variations across states, while the web tool allows users to obtain more detailed data about individual states. The data tool and accompanying analysis will be updated with new data as they become available, allowing users to track trends over time and study the effects of economic cycles and policy changes. Sample findings discussed in this brief include the following:

  • In 2006, children of immigrants made up more than 10 percent of the total child population in 29 states, up from 16 states in 1990.3
  • Half of children of immigrants live in California, Texas, and New York, but their numbers are growing across the country.
  • Young children are more likely to have immigrant parents: 24 percent of children age 0 to 5 have immigrant parents versus 21 percent of children age 6 to 17.
  • Almost a third of children of immigrants live in mixed-status families where the children are U.S. citizens but their parents are noncitizens.
  • Children of immigrants are substantially more likely to be poor (22 percent) and low income (51 percent) than children of natives (16 and 35 percent, respectively). 4

(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in pdf format.)

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Families and Parenting | Immigrants

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