NY TIMES: “Immigrants Aren’t Taking Americans’ Jobs, New Study Finds”

by Joseph McKeown


A new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—private, nonprofit institutions that “provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world”—has found that immigrants’ long-term impact on overall wages and employment of native-born US workers is very minimal and that immigration has an overall positive impact. The non-partisan report includes research from fourteen leading economists, demographers, and other scholars, including those, such as Marta Tienda of Princeton, who believe immigration has positive effects and others who are skeptical of its benefits, including George J. Borjas, a Harvard economist.  

The report found that when measured over a period of ten years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small, and any negative impact is most likely to be for native-born workers who have not completed high school—i.e., those who share job qualifications similar to that of many low-skilled immigrant workers. Specifically, the research finds that while immigration does not affect employment levels for native-born workers who haven’t finished high school it may reduce the number of hours worked for these same workers. Francine D. Blau, Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and professor of economics at Cornell University and chair of the panel that conducted the study and wrote the report, comments that there are many reasons why those who haven’t completed high school struggle to find work and there is no “indication immigration is the major factor.”

For the effect of high-skilled immigrants on native wages and employment, the report notes that several studies have found a “positive impact of skilled immigration on the wages and employment of both college- and non-college-educated natives.” These findings are consistent with the view that “skilled immigrants are often complementary to native-born workers; that spillovers of wage-enhancing knowledge and skills occur as a result of interactions among workers; and that skilled immigrants innovate sufficiently to raise overall productivity.”

While the report found that immigrants had minimal impact on the wages of native-born workers, in terms of fiscal impact, first-generation immigrants at the state and local levels are more costly to governments than the native-born, in large part due to educational costs, and that when compared with the native-born, first-generation immigrants contributed less in taxes during working ages because they were, on average, less educated and earned less. The children of immigrants, however, as adults are “among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the US population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.”

Immigration and the role of immigrants in the US has been a hotly debated topic this election season. Some American workers, still recovering from the recession, have blamed immigrants for lack of quality jobs. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, saying they “compete directly against vulnerable American workers” while also proposing new controls on legal immigration to “boost wages and ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first.”

Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies and one of the outsider reviewers for the report (and generally a critic of favorable US immigration policies) notes: “Immigration is primarily a redistributive policy, transferring income from workers to owners of capital and from taxpayers to low-income immigrant families. The information in the new report will help Americans think about these tradeoffs in a constructive way.”  

Dr. Blau says: “The panel's comprehensive examination revealed many important benefits of immigration—including on economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship—with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term.”