Immigration doesn’t hurt native-born workers

Recent hearings in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration focused on enforcement, but the underlying message was that immigrants are taking jobs that rightfully belong to American workers.

The implication was clear: If we can reduce illegal immigration, it will mean more jobs and higher wages for native-born workers, especially the poor and minorities.

That message may play well politically, but it does not reflect the reality of America’s dynamic labor market. There is simply no evidence that immigration drives up the U.S. unemployment rate or that it drives down wages for American workers.

America’s current unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent has nothing to do with immigration. The rate was below 5 percent four years ago when, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, there were 1 million more illegal immigrants in the United States than today.

In fact, immigration helps to soften swings in the unemployment rate by acting as a kind of safety valve for the U.S. labor market. When jobs are plentiful and labor markets tight, immigrants tend to come in greater numbers. When jobs are scarce and unemployment high, immigrants arrive in fewer numbers and more choose to return to their native countries, an option not open to native-born Americans.

The large majority of Americans have no reason to fear losing their job to an immigrant. Immigrants typically fill niches in the labor market at the high end and the low end of the skill spectrum, from farm workers and dishwashers to computer scientists and physics professors. Of course, Americans perform those jobs as well, but not in sufficient numbers needed to meet demand during years of normal growth. As a result, immigrants complement most American workers rather than compete against them.

Numerous studies have found a generally positive impact of immigration on native-born wages. The only two groups that do suffer some wage losses because of immigration are other recent immigrants, and the small and shrinking pool of native-born adult Americans laboring without a high school diploma.

A comprehensive study by the National Research Council in 1997 concluded that immigration boosts the income of American workers overall by as much as $10 billion, but that it does slightly reduce the wages of the lowest skilled Americans. The NRC found that immigration had no negative effect on the wages of black Americans as a group.

More recent studies have confirmed the benign impact of immigration on U.S. wages. In a 2006 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri estimated that immigration from 1990 to 2004 had reduced the wages of Americans without a high school diploma by 1 to 2 percent, while boosting the wages of the more than 90 percent of American adults with a high-school education by 0.7 percent in the short run and 1.8 percent in the long run.

Immigrants have a relatively small impact on the wages of native-born workers for at least three major reasons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/MaryEllen-Lempa/1837223568 oldgraymare

    Griswold’s opinions are also reflective of those attending his alma mater, and those who have been insulated from the results of the invasion from the south over the last fifteen plus years. I am a refugee from Chicago – from a south side “gateway” community that housed immigrants for 150 years or so, including Hispanics. The area was uniquely American although few arrived there speaking English, but it was a total melting pot, with immigrants from around the world. Now, one would think it a southern border town. There are few, if any, American business left as is common when neighborhoods “turn,” although there is a Home Depot with many Hispanic men milling around every day. Why did we leave the neighborhood? I didn’t want my grandchildren to be moving targets, didn’t want them sitting in suddenly overcrowded schools, got tired of picking up litter, cleaning graffiti, and didn’t want to learn another language to survive in my own neighborhood.

  • CrazyHungarian

    The number one reason the left loves illegal immigration: They vote and when they do, it’s mostly Democrat. This is the payoff for all of the legal action to make sure voters don’t need positive identification or proof of citizenship.

  • texeck

    Where do people like Griswold get their “information”? How do we know there are fewer illegal aliens in the country today than one year ago? And how does anyone know that there aren’t native-born Americans who would take the jobs now being held by illegals if the native-born workers were paid a living wage rather than the pittance that forces so many illegals to live in conditions we would regard as 3rd world? Just saying something is so doesn’t make it so. Let’s demand sources from people like Griswold and test their “facts” against what’s really true.

  • mapletree

    Illegal workers make companies happy because they lower their labor expense. If you increase the supply of workers and wages fall. If demand for labor is also rising then the average wage won’t rise as fast as it would have without the extra supply. Americans make an economic decision. Lower wages mean fewer workers are willing to accept the depressed wages so they are more likely to accept welfare. In addition the wages of illegals are subsidized by taxpayers because they receive no benefits typically and they pay very little in taxes. Yet they use our public schools ($15,000 per child per year) and medical system without paying into it.

  • brittanicus

    It’s a bit like poetic justice now that some lawmakers have seen the error in their ways, by pandering to the illegal alien assault. Suddenly these politicians realize they have left their States guard wide open, to unauthorized persons who are fleeing Arizona in large numbers. These people are absconding from stricter States and heading for what they hoped is an easy place to settle. Arizona thankfully began the first immigration laws, to police their State and now legislators around the country are following their example in one way or another. Now that Bill Richardson, the previous Governor of New Mexico has gone, the new leader taking that office has killed drivers licenses issued to illegal immigrants. Numerous States have also enacted the E-Verify system to reject foreigners, and placing in their stead American workers being hired. This is aiding cutting down on the massive unemployment around the country. This is a method of attrition, that is if the federal government is motivated to enact it as a mandatory law? Secure communities has also being applied by police forces through the land, to identify criminals who are also illegal.


    Unions need to comply with E-Verify to remove illegal aliens, that have for years been hidden under the eye of ICE agents. Republicans, a large majority of Independents joined by the Tea Party will support rescinding the 14th Amendment Act controversy. That any birthright citizenship for a child, may only inherit an American birth certificate only if either parent is either a citizen or naturalized citizen. Another law to be amended is the “Chain Migration law, as this has become another entitlement program, for sponsors who fail to financial support family members once they arrive here. Hundreds of bills are being discussed, amended or even written into law to deal with the illegal alien invasion. This is owing to the federal government’s complete failure to seal the border, build the double-layer fence and station 5000 National Guard or US troops on the border.

    The years of unresponsiveness to illegal immigration has placed us in this predicament, which has caused State financial deficits to soar sky high. The only salvation now being that Arizona has led by example and those States that fail to enforce policing laws will suffer heavy consequences as the economic refugees sweep in? There schools, hospitals and are in peril, from overwhelming hordes pushing themselves into soft states. This terrible situation has got to stop, that’s why I became a member of the Tea Party.

  • Tex Expatriate

    Griswold advances Democrat talking points in this article and nothing else. He also demonstrates that he is totally uninformed about the labor market.

    • SteveM

      Agree. Griswold is either a nitwit/pimp or a pimp/nitwit.

      The symmetry is troubling…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allen-Bunch/1847060721 Allen Bunch

    Just more of the same old double talk propaganda designed to protect the employers who use illegal aliens to avoid having to abide by American labor laws designed to protect American workers. These people are no different than the ones who hired Baldwin Felts back in the 20’s to silence workers who complained of abusive and unsafe working conditions.

  • SteveM

    Griswold is pimping for the Crony Capitalists who love cheap, compliant H-1B labor. First he ignores the law of supply and demand. The mere presence of the H-1Bs in the labor force is going to decrease the average wage. So the “prevailing wage” is automatically reduced.

    Moreover, why would an American kid bust their hump in a tough science or engineering academic program, when they know they’ll have to compete for jobs with H-1Bs who will work as indentured servants for a Green Card?

    There are plenty of other angles that point to the H-1B Visa program is a racket that lowers wages and shoves able Americans out of jobs. See this site for answers to some FAQs:


  • minnott

    I think it is a mistake to leave out the impact that illegal immigrants have on social services. Even if there is no loss, or even a small gain, as immigrant labor pertains to wages, you have to add the cost of social services.

    Now, Mr. Griswold is from CATO, so I can already guess the response to the above, “that’s the fault of social welfare programs, which should be abolished.” As much as I sympathize with that and agree with libertarians on having a pay-as-you-go society, that is not the current reality. Immigration policy has to reflect the reality of our social welfare state.

    There is also a perverse logic to illegal immigration and welfare. We have millions of native born poor on welfare, then tolerate illegal immigrants who do the jobs that native born welfare recipients should be doing. You have a double whammy of illegal immigrants consuming social services added to the native born poor who are also consuming social services. One suspects that these policies are championed by politicians as a form of corporate welfare, as well as identity-politic husslers. No surprise that tax payers are outraged.

  • CrazyHungarian

    First of all,the author shows obvious bias by calling illegal aliens with the name immigrant. It does a disservice to all those who followed the rules and came here legally. Legal immigrants made a serious and difficult decision to leave everything elsewhere and to come here and become part of America, while a vast portions of illegals come here to just to send money home.
    Immigrants are good for the melting pot, but illegals are not. If you think that illegals don’t take American’s jobs, then you have never been near a construction site or have not had any service done at your house, services such as carpet, roofing, carpentry, etc. How many of the near 16 million unemployed Americans would just love to have some of those jobs? Secondarily, illegals drive down the labor rates on most jobs and also most that work for small service businesses work “under the table” and do not pay taxes or support the country.
    I personally believe in a strong border balanced with a sensible guest-worker program.