Immigrant Labor Improves Job Prospects For the Native Born
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Peri: I know that the issue of immigration stirs strong sentiments. I try to keep my analysis strictly to the economics. I try to look at the data and see what it shows.
Engler: But clearly, given that anti-immigration folks often base their arguments on the idea that immigrants are driving down wages for U.S. citizens, stealing jobs, and harming the economy, your work has implications for the political debate.
Peri: Absolutely. What I see is that when you dispel the argument that immigrants harm the economy, people [who are opposed to greater immigration] move quickly to other arguments. These people say, okay, maybe that’s not true [that new immigrants hurt the economy], but immigrants still increase the risk of terrorism and create a cultural clash. At that point, I emphasize that I am only doing research on one aspect of this issue.
But to the extent that it’s part of the rhetoric of anti-immigrant groups to say, “We know immigrants steal jobs and have a negative economic impact,” I always say that our research shows the contrary. If you poll serious economists who work on this, including George Borjas, they will agree that there is no evidence of big displacement or negative impact on wages. Some will tell you that there is a small negative effect on the bottom 10 percent of American workers, and others will argue that there is no evidence of that. But the consensus is that for the economy as a whole there is a positive effect on productivity, employment, and wages.
Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via DemocracyUprising.com.