Immigration’s Impact on Black America

For a long time, I was part of the open borders crowd. In fact, here on Rekonomics I argued in favor of increased immigration and mocked anti-immigrant arguments (see here and here). Recently, however, I have become more of a restrictionist. While there are various reasons I switched, let’s start with one of the more common arguments immigration: that low-skilled immigration harms native workers of comparable skills.

This means a high skilled immigrant from Korea would hurt a high-skilled native MIT graduate, that a low-skilled Mexican harms low-skilled native Hispanics, and that low-skilled immigrants harm blacks.

Blacks, for whatever reason are poorer than whites. Blacks also tend to be low-skilled, at least in comparison to whites. This means the jobs they look for are often the same jobs low-skilled immigrants look for. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that if an influx of immigrants flock to the jobs blacks wish to occupy, there would be reduced wages and employment for blacks in these occupations.

This is exactly what the data says. According to one study, “The 1980-2000 immigrant influx, therefore, generally ‘explains’ about 20 to 60 percent of the decline in wages, 25 percent of the decline in employment, and about 10 percent of the rise in incarceration rates among blacks with a high school education or less.”

This isn’t to say that whites aren’t affected by immigration. They are. But they are affected less. According to the same research, a ten percent increase in the number of immigrants lowers white employment by 0.7 percent; for blacks, employment falls 2.4 percent. For whites, a ten percent increase in the number of immigrants increase the incarceration rate by 0.1 percent; for blacks, incarceration rises by one percent.

And, if you want another line of evidence, electoral outcomes is a good place to start. Mitt Romney in 2012 won nearly 20% of the youth black vote, a 13 point jump over McCain’s 2008 youth black vote share. One of the key differences between Romney and McCain, of course, is Romney’s hard line stance on immigration; indeed, he was arguably the most restrictionist candidate in recent history–until Donald Trump, of course. McCain, on the other hand, was one of Congress’s leading amnesty advocates (and, message to the establishment, McCain didn’t win the Hispanic vote despite his soft immigration stance! Goes to show that you don’t have to be a RINO to win elections).

While it would be disingenuous to claim that Mitt’s over performance with blacks was entirely due to his hawkish stance on immigration. At worst, it didn’t hurt him, and, at best, African Americans decided that they are tired of lower wages and foreign competition.

African Americans are the losers when we ignore porous borders and support ludicrous immigration policies that flood the low-wage labor markets. This is one reason, among many, that I am now more hawkish on immigration than I was before.