A recurring theme of my writing is that, first, immigration has both benefits and
costs, and, second, that the costs are systematically downplayed by immigration boosters. For example, back in the spring I wrote about the fiscal
cost of immigration in "The Amnesty Numbers Game"
Consider a congressional hearing held March 17 by the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The purpose was to determine
the fiscal impact of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration,
specifically the granting of work authorization via executive order to
millions of illegal immigrants. Witnesses opposed to amnesty presented
serious reasons why the president’s actions could impose a cost on
taxpayers. At every stage of the hearing, however, Democrats responded
with dismissive grandstanding and appeals to authority.
Earlier this summer I discussed the cultural
cost of immigration in a piece for Real Clear Policy called "Are Low-Skill Immigrants Upwardly Mobile?"
The desire to increase social mobility has taken center stage in
recent years, as lower-skill workers and their families struggle to join
the middle class. A recent New York Times poll
found that only 35 percent of Americans agree that "everyone has a fair
chance to get ahead in the long run." The explanations for insufficient
mobility are many and varied.... But whatever the root causes of class stratification, the political
class tends to ignore a major policy that worsens the problem — namely,
the mass immigration of low-skill workers.
Two of my most recent pieces focus on the distributional
costs of immigration. Increasing the supply of labor lowers production costs, but the savings come in the form of lower wages for the workers competing with immigrants. The direct connection between the economic benefits (lower consumer prices) and distributional effects (lower wages) is sometimes denied by immigration boosters. But, as I wrote
in a National Review piece, other times they are honest -- perhaps inadvertently
The [farm lobby's] report is clear about the ... desire to keep wages low
by increasing the supply of labor. It describes wage increases as “a
strain on many U.S. farms” that other industries have managed to avoid.
It shows that real wages for food preparers, housekeepers, cashiers, and
other low-skill workers outside farming have decreased since 2002. The
reason, according to the report, is that “employers in non-agricultural
industries have been able to find enough workers to fill job vacancies
without upward pressure on wages.” Farm owners wish they had the same
Finally, I wrote
about an important new paper from George Borjas (my advisor in graduate school), who has re-examined the wage impact of the Mariel boatlift:
There is perhaps no economic study more often cited by immigration
advocates than economist David Card’s 1990 analysis of the “Mariel
boatlift.” After Fidel Castro announced in 1980 that anyone wishing to
leave Cuba could do so via the port of Mariel, 125,000 Cuban immigrants
came to Miami in a matter of months that summer. The sudden influx of
young, able-bodied workers generated an unusually good test of how
immigration affects wages. Economic theory predicts wages should have
declined in Miami after the boatlift, but Card was surprisingly unable
to detect any wage impact at all.
Borjas found that there was a decline in wages, concentrated among the least skilled natives.