The latest figures indicate that some 170,000 Indochinese refugees are living in all of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Because of their abrupt evacuation, most who came to this country were psychologically unprepared to start life anew. They had made no rational, calculated decision to emigrate, but had simply fled what seemed an untenable situation. They didn't know what they would find in this country or if they would be welcome, but for the great majority there could be no going back.
The Vietnamese who came to the United States in 1975 were relatively young, with some 80 percent under the age of 35. Two-thirds came from urban settings, from relatively well-to-do families. Many were among the educational elite by Vietnamese standards, and occupied high career and xocial positions. These factors would appear to bode well for the future adjustment of the Vietnamese refugees in American society. However, the jobs open to them in this country have been for the most part lower level, offering little pay and few opportunities for advancement.
A recently completed national study, funded by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and based on a representative sample drawn from 35,500 Vietnamese refugees, gives some indication of just how far the Vietnamese have come in America, despite the difficulties they faced. Employment rates are remarkably high. Fully 94 percent of those who sought jobs are emplayed. And income among the refugees has increased steadily since 1975. A majority (51 percent) of households report a combined monthly income of $800 or more, with fewer than 3 percent reporting less than $200.
However, the findings reveal considerable downward occupational mobility, particularly among those refugees who formerly held professional or managerial positions in Vietnam. While many no doubt have seen their standard of loving lowered since leaving Vietnam, the employment and oncome figures appear bright considering how recently they arrived in the United States, and the extraordinary circumstances of their arrival.
Of even greater significance, the findings show that over 90 percent of the income of the Vietnamese is from wages and salaries, not public assistance. In fact, fewer than one-third of the Vietnamese households are presently receiving public assistance of any type, a clear indication that the Vietnamese are moving steadily toward economic sel-sufficiency. Thus early fears that the Vietnamese refugees would create a considerable financial burden for American taxpayers appear to have been unfounded.
Upon their arrival in this country, many of the refugees found that language barriers added to all their other problems. With the passage of time, however, limited English proficiency appears to have become less of an obstacle. In fact, 89 percent of those who cannot understand English at all nevertheless are employed. With prolonged exposure to American people, schools and the mass media, it seems only a matter of time until the great majority of Vietnamese in the United States are functionally fluent in English.
Unlike other immigrant groups, the Vietnamese who arrived in the United States in 1975 found no indigenous ethnic community to give them emotional or material support. In recognition of this need, the Vietnamese have been regrouping since early 1976. They have been moving from small towns to large metropolitan areas, forming substantial ethnic communities in such cities as Dallas, New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The inroads they have made so quickly in the areas of income and employment, coupled with their apparent cohesiveness in spite of their original thin dispersal throughout the states, indicate a remarkable trend. It appears likely that, with increasing familiarity with the English language and an expanding job market that can allow them to take advantage of their educational and occupational backgrounds, the Vietnamese face a bright funture in America.