Identifying Rates of Emigration in the United States Using Administrative Earnings Records: Working Paper 2009-01

Working Paper
March 18, 2009

By Jonathan A. Schwabish

Sound assessment of the impact of immigration on the economy and public policies requires accurate measurement of both inflows and outflows of migrants. This paper undertakes a new strategy to estimate emigration rates among U.S. immigrants by inferring the probability of emigration using longitudinal administrative earnings data from 1978 through 2003. Two groups of emigrants are evaluated separately: those who emigrate from the United States and those who leave both the United States and the Social Security system. The method used here finds that between 1.0 percent and 1.5 percent of the foreign-born working population emigrates every year, consistent with previous estimates. These estimates suggest that the number of foreign-born workers who emigrate each year doubled between the late 1970s and late 1990s, rising from about 200,000 to 400,000. A smaller portion—between about 0.8 and 1.2 percent of foreign-born workers—emigrates from the United States and exits the Social Security system annually. This suggests that the number of foreign-born workers who emigrated each year from Social Security grew from about 150,000 to 330,000 over the same period. Logit regressions using data at the individual level provide evidence of differences between various demographic groups. The regression analysis suggests that immigrants with lower earnings are more likely to emigrate and that the likelihood of ever emigrating decreases with age at an increasing rate.