Friday, May 17, 2024

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Kirin Kalia “1 in 5: One-fifth of Salvadorans Make Their Home in US”

Latinovations would like to thank Kirin Kalia for her contribution to La Plaza

In cities like Los Angeles and Washington, DC, pupusas have become commonplace delicacies in recent years, a reflection of rising immigration from El Salvador. In fact, this tiny Central American country has seen about one-fifth of its current population settle in the United States — a rate that well exceeds that of Mexico, for example, which has about one-tenth of its population living in the United States.

The Migration Information Source, the online journal of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, recently crunched the latest US Census Bureau data on Salvadoran immigrants. Some of the results were surprising: the nation’s 1.1 million Salvadoran immigrants in 2008 make them the sixth-largest immigrant group after foreign born from Mexico, the Philippines, India, China, and Vietnam. The Salvadoran foreign born are also now the second-largest Hispanic immigrant group, a position formerly occupied by the Cuban born.

The growth in the Salvadoran immigration population has been rapid. Before 1980, fewer than 100,000 Salvadorans lived in the United States. But as civil war engulfed the country, hundreds of thousands of El Salvador’s citizens came to the United States. The growth continued in the 1990s and 2000s due to family reunification and waves of new arrivals fleeing natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

As of 2008, more than half of the Salvadoran immigrant population resided in California and Texas, although Salvadorans are also concentrated in New York, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (where they accounted for 15 percent of immigrants).

Without doubt, Salvadorans have come to the United States to work. About 81 percent of the population is working age (between 18 and 54), and 90 percent of Salvadoran-born men 16 and older were employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, compared to about 81 percent of foreign-born men in this age group. The rate for Salvadoran women was 68 percent, far higher than among immigrant women overall (57 percent).

It’s no surprise that the recent recession has particularly affected Salvadoran immigrants. In 2008, 38 percent of employed Salvadoran-born men reported working in construction, 24 percent in services, and 18 percent in manufacturing – sectors hit first and hardest. About 45 percent of employed Salvadoran women reported working in services.

Fluency in English, as numerous studies have shown, is key to securing better-paid and more stable work in the United States. The vast majority (72 percent) of Salvadorans were limited English proficient in 2008, meaning they reported speaking English less than “very well.” Among all foreign born in 2008, 52 percent had limited English proficiency.

Education is also important for upward mobility. While about a third of all immigrants 25 and older lacked a high school degree or equivalent in 2008, 54 percent of Salvadoran immigrants were in this group. On the other end of the educational spectrum, about 8 percent of Salvadorans in the United States had a bachelor’s degree or higher, far lower than among all immigrants (27 percent).

Mexican immigrants make up most of the unauthorized immigrant population. In distant second are Salvadoran immigrants, accounting for about 5 percent of the approximately 11.6 million unauthorized migrants in January 2008, according to estimates from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

For more details about Salvadoran immigrants, see this article on the Migration Information Source. For articles on other immigrant populations, US immigration trends, or other interesting developments, sign up here.

Kirin Kalia is Editor of the Migration Information Source [], an online migration resource for journalists, policymakers, and researchers that is a project of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. She holds an MA in Migration and Ethnic Studies from the University of Amsterdam and a BA in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College.

Link to this Article


  1. Interesting post. I thought it was good because I live in DC and there is a big Salvadoran population here.