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No, Immigrants are Not Stealing Our Jobs

It doesn’t take long to get the drift of a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan, anti-immigration think tank. The title basically sums it up: “All Employment Growth Since 2000 Went to Immigrants.” The only question left to the reader is, why they didn’t simply title it “Immigrants stole all of our jobs”?

Perhaps it’s because immigrants didn’t steal our jobs, and the authors have no evidence that they did, but they’re doing their best to insinuate that they do.

Their main findings certainly look surprising at first blush: immigrant employment has increased significantly since 2000, but native employment has not increased at all, despite the fact that native population has increased twice as much as immigrant employment. It seems like a closed case: all the new jobs went to immigrants, therefore we should decrease immigration.

If only it were that simple. As intuitive as it might seem to argue that a job is a job and an unemployed person is an unemployed person, this is not how economies work. The Center makes a mistake common to many casual observers of the labor market: what economists call the “lump of labor fallacy.”  Under this thinking the notion is that there are a fixed number of jobs in the economy and anything that takes one away (e.g. robots or immigrants) means one less job.   In fact, immigrant workers are not just workers they are also consumers.  They spend money on shelter, food, health care, and entertainment  just like non-immigrants.  And when they do, that spending creates jobs.  In other words more workers in the labor market, whether they are women joining the labor force as they did in the 80s and 90s, or young people graduating from college, or immigrants coming to our nation don’t just take jobs, they make jobs through their spending.

This logic is supported by academic papers that, unlike the CIS report, make an honest attempt to uncover the causal effect of immigration on native wages and employment.  They have found that there is basically no relationship between unemployment and immigration. CIS authors Camarota and Zeigler completely ignore this widely accepted finding, citing instead the one paper that has found otherwise, and ignoring the more recent paper that strongly calls its results into question.

Camarota and Ziegler do raise one good point: that U.S. labor markets have been quite weak since the late 1990s. This is very much true, but it neither can be blamed on immigration nor constitutes a good reason to slow immigration down. Instead, as we point out in Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage weak labor markets are in part a symptom of weak U.S. economic competitiveness.  Blaming immigrants for a weak U.S. economy only diverts attention from the real issue: designing and implementing a robust national competitiveness strategy.

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