Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers

I’ve been studying immigration for 30 years, but 2016 was the first time my research was cited in a convention speech. When he accepted his party’s nomination in July, Donald Trump used one of my economic papers to back up his plan to crack down on immigrants and build a physical wall: “Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers,” he told the cheering crowd. But he was telling only half the story.

Hillary Clinton, for her part, seemed to be telling only the other half. At her convention a week later, Clinton claimed that immigrants, both legal and illegal, improve the economy for everyone. She told the crowd: “I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to try to kick them out. Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy.”

Here’s the problem with the current immigration debate: Neither side is revealing the whole picture. Trump might cite my work, but he overlooks my findings that the influx of immigrants can potentially be a net good for the nation, increasing the total wealth of the population. Clinton ignores the hard truth that not everyone benefits when immigrants arrive. For many Americans, the influx of immigrants hurts their prospects significantly.

This second message might be hard for many Americans to process, but anyone who tells you that immigration doesn’t have any negative effects doesn’t understand how it really works. When the supply of workers goes up, the price that firms have to pay to hire workers goes down. Wage trends over the past half-century suggest that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular set of skills probably lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent.

By GEORGE J. BORJAS for POLITICO MAGAZINE
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