Immigrants do not steal our jobs, they create them in the economy

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What is happening at the border with Mexico is a disgrace, and the lack of a strategy from President Biden to combat illegal immigration is largely to blame. Our border should be secure but it is not. That has precluded the kinds of sensible immigration policy reforms this country needs for our economic prosperity. At the same time, we are disturbed by some on the right who argue that even legal immigrants take jobs from Americans. Immigration opponents such as Senator Tom Cotton continue to claim immigrant workers will push our workers into unemployment lines.

We think they are wrong about that. Decades of comprehensive analyses show that immigrants improve the domestic economy and raise incomes for Americans. They reduce unemployment and have little to no negative effect on the wages of native born workers. Skilled immigrants particularly benefit the economy as they raise wages for native born workers. There are also six million jobs unfilled because of the lack of skills or because some service and agriculture jobs are almost always filled by immigrants. If you do not believe this, go back into the kitchen of any restaurant or see the folks working in the fields picking crops and tending our farms.

On the high end of the skills spectrum, there is almost no debate that foreign talent contributes to our global leadership. In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences issued a major report of the impact of immigrants on the domestic economy. Its study found that immigrants increase long term growth. They help the economy avoid the stagnation plaguing many other countries caused by aging workforces. They bolster “innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change.” They increase the number of patents not just in total but per capita. They also raise productivity.

These critical findings on immigrants are not new. Research back in the 1980s and 1990s by the late economist Julian Simon reached the same conclusion. Immigrants benefit the domestic economy and also raise the incomes of native born Americans. That research confirmed what we can see with our own daily experiences, which is that immigrants work more, save more, and start more businesses than native born Americans.

Some studies even find that immigrants reduce unemployment. In 2018, economist Madeline Zavodny, formerly of the Federal Reserve and now at the University of North Florida, reported that states with more immigrants generally have lower rather than higher unemployment rates. “Having more immigrants reduces the unemployment rate and raises the labor force participation rate of natives within the same sex and education group,” Zavodny said. More immigrants improve local economies. That translates into more jobs and more money for native born workers.

The National Academy of Sciences study found “little to no negative effects on the overall wages” of native born workers. “To the extent that negative wage effects are found, prior immigrants, who are often the closest substitutes for new immigrants, are most likely to experience them, followed by native born high school dropouts, who share job qualifications similar to the large share of low skilled workers among immigrants to the United States.” It also found that skilled immigrants increase the employment of workers regardless of education.

This may seem counterintuitive, but it happens since skilled immigrants “are often complementary to native born workers.” The work of skilled immigrants makes the work of native born Americans in different jobs more productive and thus higher paid. There also are “spillovers of wage enhancing knowledge and skills” which “occur as a result of interactions among workers.” So skilled immigrants share knowledge with their native born coworkers, making all of us more productive and higher paid.

Perhaps most importantly, immigrants tend to start businesses across the country, from corner delis to landscaping companies to sometimes huge corporations with thousands of employees. We want Americans to be the highest paid in the world. To raise wages for the people at the bottom, we will need better schools, better job training, better work ethic, and more businesses. Restricting immigration will not solve those issues.

The best immigration policy is to allow immigrants to come here who can show they want to work and whose services are needed, especially those with great skills. We must then enforce our borders to keep out those who should not be admitted for economic or humanitarian reasons.

Stephen Moore is an economist at Freedom Works and one of the founders of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. David Simon is a senior fellow for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and also a lawyer based in Chicago.

Tags Business Citizenship Economics Finance Government Labor Market Politics

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