Social Capital Investment and Immigrant Economic Trajectories: A Case Study of Punjabi American Taxi Drivers in New York City

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Abstract

Although the scholarship on social capital and immigrant economic incorporation has sufficiently documented how immigrants mobilize social capital in their search for employment which often leads to the formation of immigrant niches, how social capital is processed after immigrants acquire employment and its significance for the preservation of immigrant employment niches is less well explored. This paper addresses this gap in the literature with a case study of immigrant Punjabi taxi drivers in the New York metropolitan area. In particular, this study shows how a group of immigrant Punjabi taxi drivers mobilized social capital via embeddedness in co-ethnic social networks and improved their working conditions – a process that must be considered in explanations of the Punjabi niche in the taxi industry for more than two decades. The study has implications for the relationship between social capital and the structure of the workplace or industry where immigrants are incorporated and its subsequent impact on immigrant economic trajectories. Further, this study contributes to the debate on the usefulness of ethnic communities for the adaptation of immigrant groups. Additionally, this research is relevant to the scholarship on the economic adaptation of South Asian (a subset of Asian Americans) immigrants, an understudied immigrant group in the United States.

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