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Accounting for Regional Migration Patterns and Homeownership Disparities in the Hmong-American Refugee Community, 1980-2000

Published October 1, 2008

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Richard M. Todd Former Vice President and Advisor to the CICD
Michael Grover Assistant Vice President, Community Development and Engagement
Accounting for Regional Migration Patterns and Homeownership Disparities in the Hmong-American Refugee Community, 1980-2000


Hmong refugees began arriving in significant numbers in the United States in the late 1970s. Compared to typical immigrants, Hmong-Americans came with few financial, labor market, or co-ethnic support factors in favor of their economic success in the United States. Focusing on homeownership as an indicator of economic assimilation, we show that indeed the overall Hmong-American homeownership rate was initially very low but had converged, by 2000, to a level typical for U.S. immigrants of equivalent time in country. Over the same period, however, wide regional gaps in Hmong-American homeownership emerged. By 2000, most of these gaps had also disappeared, except that Hmong-American homeownership rates in the metropolitan areas of the Central Valley of California remained very low. We present evidence that selective migration patterns related to state differences in public assistance policies were important in the emergence of regional homeownership differences in the 1980s, and that changes in these policies were among the factors that closed most of the gaps in the 1990s. Then, taking location in 2000 as given, we adapt the method of Coulson (2002) to statistically account for the gap between the Hmong-American homeownership rate in the Central Valley and elsewhere. Using probit regressions on data for individual Hmong-American households from the 2000 Public Use Microsample from the U.S. Census, we find that both personal traits of the household head (age, English ability, and residential locational stability) and household financial variables (total income, public assistance income, and the relative cost of owning versus renting) significantly affect the odds that a given Hmong household owns its residence. Nonetheless, we find that the Central Valley’s persistent lag in Hmong-American homeownership is mostly accounted for by regional differences in the financial variables and hardly at all by regional differences in the Hmong-American personal traits we measure. A caveat to this conclusion is that one of our financial variables, public assistance income, may proxy for unmeasured regional differences in personal attributes.