Immigrants Overwhelmingly Say They and Their Children Are Better Off in the US, But Many Also Report Substantial Discrimination and Challenges, a New KFF/Los Angeles Times Survey Reveals
A new KFF-Los Angeles Times partnership survey of immigrant adults – the largest nationally representative survey focused on immigrants – shows that while most feel they found a better life for their families in this country, many also face economic hardships and discrimination.
Conducted in partnership with the Los Angeles Times, the survey of more than 3,300 immigrants conducted in 10 languages captures the varied experiences of immigrants living in the United States today, including at work, in their communities, and accessing health care.
As with previous generations of immigrants, most say they came to this country for economic and educational opportunities and to provide a better future for their children. In many ways, they found it. Three-quarters (77%) say that they are better off than their parents were, and most (60%) expect their children’s lives to be even better.
At the same time, many immigrants report experiencing discrimination and other challenges, such as having difficulty making ends meet and being overqualified for their jobs, uninsured, and uncertain about immigration laws and policies that may affect their families. Hostility is also an issue, as a third (33%) of immigrants say they’ve been told that they should “go back to where you came from.”
The groups of immigrants that often face the greatest challenges include Black and Hispanic immigrants, those who are likely undocumented, and those with limited English proficiency. For example:
Immigrants who are Black or Hispanic are most likely to report discrimination at work and elsewhere. More than half of employed Black (56%) and Hispanic (55%) immigrants say they have faced discrimination at work. Asian immigrants are also more likely than White immigrants to report workplace discrimination (44% vs. 31%). Nearly four in ten (38%) Black immigrants say they have been treated unfairly by the police compared to people born in the U.S. In addition, about a third of Black (35%) and Hispanic (31%) immigrants, and a quarter (27%) of Asian immigrants, report receiving worse treatment than people born in the U.S. in a store or restaurant; fewer White immigrants say this (16%).
Immigrants with limited English proficiency report a wide range of challenges. Among immigrants with limited English proficiency, about half (53%) say it has made it hard for them to get health care services; receive services in stores or restaurants; get or keep a job; apply for government financial help with food, housing, or health coverage; and/or report a crime or get help from the police. Working immigrants with limited English proficiency also are more likely to report workplace discrimination compared to those who speak English very well (55% vs. 41%).
Fears and lack of information affect the daily lives of undocumented immigrants. About seven in ten (69%) of those who are likely undocumented say they worry that they or a family member could be detained or deported. About four in ten (42%) say they have avoided talking to the police, applying for a job, or traveling because they didn’t want to draw attention to their or a family member’s immigration status. Seven in ten (69%) say they don’t have enough information about U.S. immigration policy to understand how it affects their family.
Most immigrants work, but some feel overqualified for their jobs. Two-thirds (66%) of immigrants say they are currently employed, with the rest a mix of students, retirees, homemakers, and a few (6%) who are unemployed. About a quarter (27%) say they feel overqualified for their jobs, including about half of college-educated Black and Hispanic immigrants.
One in three struggle to afford basic needs. About one in three (34%) immigrants say their household had trouble in the past year paying for food, housing, health care and/or utilities. Hispanic and Black immigrants are most likely to report such financial struggles, reflecting lower incomes among those groups. Nearly half of immigrants say they send money back home either occasionally (35%) or regularly (10%).
Non-citizen immigrants are more likely to be uninsured. Half of immigrant adults who are likely undocumented, and nearly one in five (18%) of those with a green card or valid visa, are uninsured, compared to 6% of naturalized citizens. State decisions about Medicaid expansion and other coverage policies also matter. For example, immigrants living in Texas are more than three times as likely as those in California to be uninsured (27% vs. 8%), reflecting more limited coverage options in the state.
Some report unfair treatment when seeking health care. A quarter (25%) of immigrant adults who have sought health care in the U.S. say they have been treated differently or unfairly by a doctor or other provider since coming to the U.S. due to their insurance status or ability to pay, their accent or English proficiency, or their race, ethnicity, or skin color. About three in ten (29%) say they have had difficulty obtaining respectful or culturally competent care. Black, Hispanic and Asian immigrants are all more likely than White immigrants to report these challenges.
Most are uncertain about “public charge” policies. Large shares of immigrants either are unsure (58%) or wrongly believe (16%) that using government programs that help pay for health care, housing, or food will make it harder to get a green card.A quarter (27%) of likely undocumented immigrants say they have avoided applying for such assistance due to immigration-related fears.
The KFF-LA Times Survey of Immigrants is a probability-based survey of 3,358 immigrant adults (people ages 18 and over living in the U.S. who were born outside the U.S. and its territories) conducted between April 10-June 12, 2023. Respondents were contacted via mail or telephone; had the choice to complete the survey in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Haitian-Creole, Arabic, French, or Tagalog; and responded either online, via telephone, or on a paper questionnaire. Survey methodology was developed by KFF researchers in collaboration with SSRS based on results of a pilot study conducted in 2022, and SSRS managed sampling, data collection, weighting, and tabulation for the project. Teams from KFF and the Los Angeles Times worked together to develop the questionnaire and analyze the data. Each organization is solely responsible for its content. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points for results based on the full sample.