No issue on the congressional docket this year will incite more passion and controversy than immigration policy. Polls show Americans ranking immigration reform as one of the five most pressing issues for the nation-but there’s widespread disagreement about what to do about the millions of foreigners who seek to come to these shores. There’s also a great debate about whether the immigrants who do come are an economic blessing or a curse. First, a few background facts.
There are now roughly 35 million immigrants living in the
These numbers explain why the issue has become such a political flash point. Clearly, immigrants have had an enormous impact on the face of our population and culture. The percentage of foreign-born Americans has roughly doubled, from 6.2 percent in 1980 to more than 12 percent now.
The impact on the American workforce has been even more pronounced. The Labor Department reports that more than half (54 percent) of all new entrants in the labor force over the past decade have been immigrants.
Another study by the Center for Immigration Studies finds, incredibly, that immigrants have filled 91 percent of the net new jobs in the U.S. economy from 2000-2005 because young native workers are entering the work force at only a slightly faster pace than their parents are leaving the work force.
Most-but certainly not all-economic studies indicate that these 25 million newcomers since 1980 have been a net benefit to the economy.
High-level immigration has corresponded with a period of sustained economic growth and rising income levels for most Americans. The overall
What is most unexpected has been the capacity of the
Vedder statistically examined the impact of immigration on the
One economist who believes that immigrants impose net costs on our society is George Borjas of Harvard.
Borjas’s research suggests that the negative effect of immigration is a result of the increased competition for jobs at the bottom end of the income scale. His studies, based on examining immigrant job competition in cities, suggest that at the low end of the scale the rivalry between immigrants and natives for jobs depresses wages by as much as 10 percent. Borjas believes this exacerbates the wage and income gap between the rich and the poor in the
Yes, but there is countervailing good news about the economic performance of immigrants too. The new immigrants appear to be climbing the economic ladder of success in
So what are the largest economic advantages derived from accepting immigrants? One is the working age profile of immigrants. Our nation is aging, but young immigrants keep coming to mitigate that demographic change in our economy. The average age of a native American is 36, but the average age of an immigrant is 25. Some 75 percent of immigrants arrive in their prime working years and are thus paying income and payroll taxes. Perhaps best of all, only 3 percent of immigrants who come here are over the age of 65, versus 12 percent and growing for the
One more point is worth emphasizing, especially in a magazine like this one: Immigrants are highly entrepreneurial. Of course, most immigrant businesses, such as the corner grocery or the neighborhood landscaping service, are not highly successful. Yet many of the largest and most profitable businesses in
The table on page 36 shows the income and employment generated by 10 highly successful immigrant firms. Those 10 firms alone generated almost $90 billion in revenues and employed 234,000 workers in 2005.
So there is truth to both sides of the immigration debate in
Oddly enough, all of the attention in
Stephen Moore is an economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.