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Title: Immigrant Business in Suburban America: How and Why Ethnic Economy Workers in the Suburbs Are Struggling To Get By
Authors: Somashekhar, Mahesh Hosagrahara
Advisors: Massey, Douglas
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Ethnic Economies
Immigrant Entrepreneurship
Immigrant Incorporation
Social Stratification
Urban Sociology
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Immigrants are moving into U.S. suburbs at the same time that suburban areas are suffering from growing poverty, an aging infrastructure, and increasing anti-immigrant sentiment. These trends provide a unique context for immigrant entrepreneurship. Immigrant entrepreneurs are often part of ethnic economies, such as Chinatowns and Little Italies, and many scholars presume that successful ethnic economies derive from co-ethnic consumer demand and low-wage labor found in tightly-bound, densely populated urban ethnic neighborhoods. This dissertation examines how ethnic economies manage to form in suburban areas, many of which are more spread out and ethnically heterogeneous than urban ethnic neighborhoods. What effect are ethnic economies having on suburban areas? What effect are suburban areas having on ethnic economies? Drawing on techniques from population research, spatial statistics, and data science, my dissertation answers these questions, demonstrating that suburban ethnic economy workers are struggling to recreate the successes they found in urban ethnic neighborhoods due to various challenges unique to suburban areas. Using nationally representative U.S. Census data across two decades, I first show that suburban ethnic economy workers earn incomes no better than their counterparts in central cities. This finding stands in contrast to several prominent case studies that suggest that suburban ethnic economies are wealthier than those found in cities. The finding also supports the theory that the differences between immigrant adaptation in cities and suburbs are diminishing. I then use U.S. Census microdata from before and after the Great Recession to show that unemployment rates grew most quickly in suburban areas characterized by the niching of ethnic minorities into ethnic economies. The geographic isolation of many suburban ethnic economies from co-ethnic social capital likely renders them particularly vulnerable to economic downturns. Finally, using data from, I assess how the rise of ethnic chain restaurants is affecting suburban ethnic economy growth. Ethnic restaurants are often independently owned and operated by entrepreneurs who take part in ethnic economies. In many cases, chain and non-chain ethnic restaurants are equally likely to locate in suburban ethnic communities, suggesting that chains are cutting into a market that traditionally belonged to independent ethnic entrepreneurs. In sum, as suburban ethnic economies continue to grow, the trajectories of suburban ethnic businesses and workers are likely diverging from those found in urban areas. New theories and policy initiatives are necessary to successfully integrate ethnic firms and their employees into suburban economies and communities.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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