Are Immigrants Taking Your Job? A Primer
By CATHERINE RAMPELL
February 5, 2013, 3:51 pm
Immigration reform is back on the table
, reviving debates about whether immigration is good or bad for American-born workers.
There are a lot of competing studies (and pundits) out there, but the general takeaway from conservative and liberal economists is that immigration is good for Americans’ living standards over the long run. That’s because immigrants raise the wages of native-born workers (and also lower the cost of immigrant-dense services like child care and cleaning).
As scholars at the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project explained
recently, immigrants and native-born workers are generally complements, rather than perfect substitutes: lower-skilled immigrants largely sort into farming and other manual, low-paid jobs that the native-born don’t want to do, and higher-skilled immigrants provide labor that high-tech companies cannot find enough trained American-born workers.
As a result, immigration creates new job opportunities for the native-born, with some particularly high-profile examples found in Silicon Valley. According to a Kauffman Foundation study
, of the engineering and technology companies founded in the United States from 2006 to 2012, 24.3 percent had at least one key founder who was foreign-born. In Silicon Valley alone, this number was 43.9 percent. Even outside of Silicon Valley, entrepreneurship rates
are higher for the foreign-born than the native-born, and start-ups are the greatest source of American job growth.
Academic research suggests that, over all, immigrants create modest but positive average wage increases from 0.1 percent to 0.6 percent for American workers, according to Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, both of the Hamilton Project.
There is some disagreement about whether the wage benefits of immigration are evenly distributed among all workers, though.
The chart below was created by the Hamilton Project and is based on this 2008 study
. It shows the results of two different economic models designed to estimate the effect that immigration from 1990 to 2006 is likely to have had on wages for American workers (after adjusting for inflation).
The purple bars represent estimates based on research by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz, and show that immigration may have lowered the wages of American-born high school dropouts by 4.7 percent and those of college-educated workers by 1.7 percent. The blue bars show the results of a different model, created by Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, that finds that all educational groups likely benefited to some small degree.
For more on the history of the debate over how immigration affects wages, I suggest this 2006 article from The New York Times Magazine
by Roger Lowenstein.