Sunday, March 26, 2006

Immigration: More Disparities Here, Too

As long as we are on the topic of disparities, I ran across this study while reading David Frum’s blog at National Review Online. The study deals with the impact of immigration on the job prospects of Americans with lower educational levels. It is just what you would expect: not good. Whereas the national unemployment rate hovers around 5 percent, adults 18-64 with high school or less in education in some regions with high immigrant inflows is at 10 percent. Although job growth for lower-skilled workers has been substantial since 2000, most of these jobs have gone to non-natives.

The study indicates that not only are more members of this native cohort of lower-skilled workers looking for work and not finding it, more of them have dropped out of the labor force altogether. College and child-rearing can’t explain these numbers, and the study estimates that if participation rates had stayed the same as in 2000, there would be 450,000 more dropouts and 1.4 million more high school graduates in the labor force in 2005. A full copy of the study can be found here:

The results described above are hardly surprising. When you expand the supply of labor through immigration, you put downward pressure on price. The employer’s surplus increases, and workers do not benefit. The study indicates that about 11 million lower-skilled immigrants are estimated to be working in the United States, and about half of these are here illegally. (I have heard some figures that are much higher.) In contrast, about 17 million lower-skilled natives are in the labor force in areas with high concentrations of immigrant workers. Natives are still a majority, but you can see the big impact this has had on the labor market for their skills.

Many of the people who are protesting on behalf of immigrants are doing so out of concern for the poor. (I recall that one Catholic leader has even suggested that he will counsel parishioners to disobey stricter immigration laws if they are passed.) They are right to be concerned, and I find myself being drawn to the plight of the poor who are simply seeking a better life. But which poor should concern us? The poor among our own citizens, who are now having trouble competing? Or the poor from other countries who break laws to enter here, but who apparently are more competitive than their native counterparts? And what about the employers, who just want a dependable worker at a fair price? Some profound moral issues are presented here, which cannot be simplistically resolved.

Movements of labor are controlled by immigration policy, which has not caught up with the free trade movements that allow ingress and egress of goods and capital. Immigration presents many complexities, including the matter of national security (who is coming in) as well as the matter of cultural changes on account of more new folks moving in than can be assimilated into the existing culture. One wonders about the process of assimilation when, in recent days, we see immigration protestors carrying the Mexican flag, rather than the American flag. To the extent that voting security is not maintained, democratic mechanisms may also be threatened by the influx of noncitizens to the voting booth. “Whose country is it, anyway?” will present itself to the citizens of this country of immigrants.

(And apropos of yesterday’s blog on drugs, query whether that has had something to do with unskilled young people dropping out of the labor market.)


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