Yesterday I promised that I would post a detailed rebuttal of the argument that increased immigration will hurt the wages of American workers. Luckily, Dylan Matthews of Vox.com got there first and saved me the trouble. He writes:
Even according to George Borjas, the single most-cited anti-immigration economist, immigration doesn't make the existing workforce worse off on average. But it does, he claims, most likely reduce wages substantially for people lacking high school degrees.
There are a few things to say in response to this. One is that even if there are losers from immigration, it should be possible to compensate them by redistributing money from the winners. The second is that Borjas is only looking at relative effects: how high school dropouts are affected compared with, say, college graduates. He actually assumes that the effect on native workers as a whole is neutral. If the effect on all workers is positive, it's possible that the absolute effect on high school dropouts is positive, even if they gain less than other workers. It's also worth noting that immigration appears to boost high school graduation rates — so even if high school dropouts are made worse off, there would be fewer people bearing that burden.
The third point is that Borjas's results are heavily contested — and most of the rest of the literature suggests that the effect on native workers' wages is neutral or positive. In particular, high-quality studies that use "natural experiments" — cases where there was a big, unexpected spike in immigration — suggest that the absolute effect of immigration on native workers is neutral or positive. It's much easier to isolate the effect on native workers in those cases than it is by trying to statistically weed out other potential causes of changes in wages. The Mariel boatlift, when Cuba unexpectedly sent 125,000 people to Florida, did not hurt employment or wages among native workers in Miami at all. A huge spike in Russian immigration to Israel in the early 1990s appeared to give existing workers a nearly 9 percent raise.
Finally, the positive economic effects of immigration extend beyond just wages.Immigration increases property values, building wealth for many native-born workers (and, admittedly, raising rents for others). Increased immigration reduces the price of services provided by immigrants, such as gardening and housekeeping. There's some evidence that immigration even gets more women into the workforce by making it cheaper to hire people to watch after children and elderly relatives, and perform other homemaking tasks.
As economist Michael Clemens once told me, the effect of immigration on real wages for native workers is "definitely positive, without any doubt whatsoever." A recentevidence review by researcher David Roodman confirms this: While low-skilled immigration can make the existing low-skilled immigrant population worse off (though almost certainly not worse off than in their country of origin), Americans born here have very little to worry about, and a lot to gain.
The whole article is worth a look for those interested in the immigration issue. It begins with a positive mention of the late editor of the Wall Street Journal, Robert Bartley, who isn't always exactly a hero to the left-leaning editors or readers of Vox.com.