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Recent public discourse would have us believe that they poach American jobs, lower wages and sponge off welfare. Yet economic research suggests a different picture: Unskilled immigrants are good for the
Until the late 1990s, when a boom in native-born self-employment occurred, immigrants were more likely than natives to work for themselves. Immigrant small businesses, from the Korean corner market to the Mexican landscaping service, are, well, as American as apple pie. The labor market is not a zero-sum game with a finite number of jobs; immigrants create their own work.
A key question for economists has been whether the influx raises or lowers "native" American wages. UC Berkeley's David Card, who studied patterns in different
Most economists have sided with Card. For one thing, his studies better capture the notion that immigrant labor makes work easier for all of us and brings new skills to the table. Additionally, as Card points out, the percentage of native-born high school dropouts has fallen sharply over the previous decades, creating a shortage of unskilled laborers that immigrants fill. In 1980, one in three American adults had less than a high school education; by 2000, this figure had fallen to less than one in five.
Gianmarco Ottaviano of the University of
New arrivals, by producing more goods and services, also keep prices down across the economy. Even Borjas — the favorite economist of immigration restrictionists — admits that the net gain to the
And over the coming decades, the need for immigrant labor will increase, according to demographers. The baby boom generation will need more healthcare and more nursing homes. The forthcoming Medicare fiscal crunch will require more and younger laborers to finance the program.
It is a scary thing to see the political system stampeded into adopting disastrous policies like immigration restriction. At least President Bush is smart and informed enough to understand the costs and consequences of what Congress is doing and we can hope that he has the courage to take action to prevent the Congressional lemmings from stampeding over the cliff.
On this issue, as on so many others, Bush is far more perceptive and intelligent than his critics.