Why Your Economic Argument Against Immigration Is Probably Wrong

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 10: People hold signs over the 110 freeway as thousands of immigrants and supporters join the Defend DACA March to oppose the President Trump order to end DACA on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program provides undocumented people who arrived to the US as children temporary legal immigration status for protection from deportation to a country many have not known, and a work permit for a renewable two-year period. The order exposes about 800,000 so-called ÒdreamersÓ who signed up for DACA to deportation. About a quarter of them live in California. Congress has the option to replace the policy with legislation before DACA expires on March 5, 2018. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

By threatening to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Trump has again elevated immigration to the national forefront.

The debate has quickly reverted to familiar territory: crime; taxes; the safety net; national identity; and, of course, wages and jobs for native-born workers.

In announcing the likely end of DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the program was pushing Americans out of work and eating away at their paychecks. Sessions’ comments, coupled with cable news’ nearly nonstop commentary, gives the impression of a raging discourse among economists over the economic impact of immigration.

The thing is, the debate just isn’t there.

While economists rarely agree on much, immigration has found a rare near-consensus among the profession. The University of Chicago periodically surveys a balanced panel of well-regarded economists on topical issues. In a poll on highly skilled immigration, a whopping 95% of economists who answered thought that the average American would be better off with more immigrants; the other 5 % were uncertain. The sentiment on low-skilled immigration was less overwhelming, but it was close.

Economists have found common ground on the topic because study after study reinforces the notion that immigration makes native-born Americans better off on a wide range of effects—innovation, the price of goods and services, the number of jobs, government finances, and even wages. Across the board, the overwhelming bulk of evidence points to improved livelihoods for Americans.

On innovation, the evidence is clear that immigration has a positive impact—from higher rates of patents to more entrepreneurship. For example, economists Jennifer Hunt and Marjolaine Gauthier-Loiselle found that a small increase in skilled immigration can boost patents on the order of 10 % to 20 %.

On costs, immigration lowers prices economy-wide, ranging from cheaper groceries to less expensive childcare. For instance, economist Patricia Cortes found that increasing low-skilled immigration by 10 % would drop the price of services like gardening and housekeeping by about 2 % .

By Benjamin Harris for FORTUNE
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