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.

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On The “Immigrants Do Jobs Americans Won’t Do”

Progressives frequently claim “[Illegal] immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.” But the argument is wrong–really wrong. I support immigration. I support immigration reform. But, really, people have to stop using this argument.

Never say immigrants “do jobs Americans don’t do.” The argument is false; Americans would be willing to do those jobs if wages were high enough.

In reality, the argument should be “immigrants do jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist without their labor.” Indeed, those jobs wouldn’t exist if wages were higher than they were. The only reason those jobs haven’t been outsourced or automated is because immigrants come here to do them.

A way to conceptualize this is to imagine a minimum wage hike. More Americans would be willing to work at McDonalds if the minimum wage was $50. Of course, a minimum wage of $50 would mean McDonalds would have fewer jobs to offer.

In the same way, immigrants aren’t stealing American farm jobs; they are doing jobs that wouldn’t exist if farmers had to pay their farm hands ludicrously high wages.

So the argument liberals like to use isn’t necessarily wrong. They are correct to say illegal immigrants don’t take jobs away from natives, but the phraseology is off. Way off.

And this isn’t the only reason why undocumented immigrants don’t “take” jobs.

See, it would be difficult for immigrants to steal jobs from natives just based on their educational composition. Immigrants are usually either really educated or not educated at all. Around 80% either have a PhD or are high school dropouts. Most Americans, by contrast, are somewhere in the middle (high school diploma through masters degree), meaning they don’t compete for the same jobs.

So how do immigrants affect the labor market? Well, when low-skilled immigrants come, they are usually not fluent in English and are uneducated, so they specialize in low-skilled manual labor. Companies now are able to have more manual oriented jobs–building houses, roads, cleaning yards, sewing clothes, etc. But, with more manual jobs, they also need more managerial jobs in order to keep things in order. These managerial positions are generally mid-education (HS diploma – master’s) and are usually filled by natives who are fluent in English. This means, for the average American, low-skilled immigrants benefit native workers. The theory that immigrants compliment, rather than supplement, American labor has been empirically demonstrated.

On the high-skilled end (generally these are the “legal” immigrants), these are the people who make businesses, innovate, and contribute to high-skilled labor markets. These people are pretty much universally considered “good” by most restrictionists.

In sum, when the phraseology of the popular “they do jobs you won’t do” argument is amended, the argument works well. And other arguments–like how immigrants don’t substitute American labor, but instead they compliment it, are also valid points. But please, stop saying immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do. It’s just flat out wrong.

Amnesty and Illegal Immigration

A common complaint against giving illegal immigrants “amnesty” (and, by the way, the recent “amnesty” proposals aren’t really amnesty), is that giving immigrants clemency will incentivize more illegal immigration. The logic is appealing: If immigrants aren’t punished for braking the law, others will be encouraged to keep breaking it. If there are no consequences, why not?

But these fears are not borne out in the data. A working paper by American University has concluded Reagans 1986 amnesty reduced the number of border apprehensions (a proxy for illegal migrant crossings).

Even if the conclusion of the report is disbelieved, research generally finds no effect between amnesties and illegal immigrant crossings.

Either way, demographic and economic factors influence the number of incoming migrants much more than any amnesty program ever could.