“Brain Waste” in the United States

A national report outlines economic and social capital losses from “brain waste”.

Photo: Migration Policy Institute
Photo: Migration Policy Institute

A national report titled “Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste Among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States” (UTBW) highlights the challenges college-educated immigrants face living in the United States. The report written by the Migration Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington D.C. and New American Economy, a coalition designed to support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans, estimates that nearly 2 million college-educated immigrants are “either working in low-skilled jobs or unemployed in the U.S. labor market.”

This is what is referred to as “brain waste”, under-utilized skills or, more clearly, when college graduates cannot fully use their high skills and education in the workplace. For example, some may have a familiarity with a scenario such as a college-educated individual driving taxis for employment when they are qualified to be a doctor or working in the service/restaurant industry when they are qualified for a corporate/technical position. Either example demonstrates “brain waste”, something that isn’t a new phenomenon to the U.S.A., but the estimated impacts on the economy have not been measured until now.  

Results from UTBW estimate that due to the underutilization of immigrant college graduates “results in tens of billions of dollars in forgone earnings and taxes annually”, resulting in a tremendous loss to the American economy. UTBW goes on to say that those same immigrants are “less likely to earn family-sustaining wages and achieve financial stability for themselves and families.”

UTBW also points out that nearly half of adult immigrants entering the USA between 2011-2015 were graduates with college degrees compared to the 33 percent that entered before the Great Recession. 

UTBW findings highlight national statistics, as well as figures specifically for seven destination states attracting immigrants: California, Florida, New York, Texas, Washington, Michigan and Ohio. The latter two states, Michigan and Ohio, have according to UTBW, recently sought to attract skilled immigrants. Michigan as of 2015, established Michigan Office for New American (MONA) to attract global talent and provide resources for skilled, college-educated immigrants, thus intending to reduce brain waste across Michigan.

A report on the economic impacts immigrants have on Michigan can be found by visiting Michigan State University Extension.

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