Sep 22, 2016 - 5:15pm

Myth Busted! Immigrants Help, Not Hurt, American Workers

Senior Editor, Digital Content

With tough talk on the presidential campaign trail on immigration and Congress unable to pass meaningful immigration reform, reformers could be discouraged. But we shouldn’t be. Evidence continues to pile up that immigration is good for American workers and our economy.

The latest is a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) based on research from a wide swatch of immigration scholars—both proponents and skeptics.

It finds "little evidence that immigration significantly affects overall employment levels of native-born workers.” As a matter of fact, immigrants are benefiting the economy, the New York Times reports.

Here are three ways American workers benefit economically from immigration.

1. More Economic Growth

The report states:

Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth. Immigration supplies workers who have helped the United States avoid the problems facing stagnant economies created by unfavorable demographics—in particular, an aging (and, in the case of Japan, a shrinking) workforce. Moreover, the infusion by high-skill immigration of human capital has boosted the nation’s capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change. The literature on immigrants and innovation suggests that immigrants raise patenting per capita, which ultimately contributes to productivity growth. The prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants.

The study reaffirms a finding in U.S. Chamber report, Immigration: Myths and Facts that immigrant workers don’t take jobs from native-born workers. Instead, because each category of workers possess different skillsets, “immigrants and native-born workers usually complement each other rather than compete.” This complementarity creates a bigger economic pie that helps everyone.

2. Lower Prices and Higher Demand

The NAS report finds that as consumers, workers benefit from “the contributions of immigrants to the labor force” that “reduce the prices of some goods and services,” especially in “sectors including child care, food preparation, house cleaning and repair, and construction.”

Also, immigrants are themselves consumers and they generate demand for goods and services.  “New arrivals and their descendants are a source of demand in key sectors such as housing, which benefits residential real estate markets,” states the report. Increased demand can lead to more jobs.

3. More Innovation

As noticed by AEI’s James Pethokoukis, the report explains how immigration helps lay the groundwork for future sustained economic growth:

Finally, immigrants influence the rate of innovation in the economy, which potentially affects long run economic growth. While research in this area is very recent, literature on the topic as a whole indicates that immigrants are more innovative than natives; more specifically, high-skilled immigrants raise patenting per capita, which is likely to boost productivity and per capita economic growth. Immigrants appear to innovate more than natives not because of greater inherent ability but due to their concentration in science and engineering fields. With so much focus on the labor market, this critical issue—the relationship between immigration and long run economic growth—is sometimes overlooked by researchers and in the public debate.

The report shows that despite horror stories restrictionists trot out, immigration is good for American workers overall and makes for a stronger economy.

It's also a reminder that "solutions" like deporting every undocumented immigrant would be extremely expensive and strike a harmful blow to the economy. The American Action Forum estimates that it would cost “$100 billion to $300 billion arresting and removing all undocumented immigrants residing in the country, a process that we estimate would take 20 years.”

As for the economy, such a drastic action would decrease the labor force by 6.4%, and “20 years from now the economy would be nearly 6 percent or $1.6 trillion smaller."

Lawmakers and policymakers need to ignore fear mongers and fix our broken immigration system. Such reform must include tough border security, effective temporary worker visa programs, and a tough but fair process for undocumented workers to earn a legal status.

American Enterprise Institute scholar, Nicholas Eberstadt puts it well, “Human beings are the true wealth of nations--people are a resource not a problem.”

An immigration system that embraces this will be good for our economy and our workers.


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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.