On today’s WSJ op/ed page, Jason Riley, author of Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, comments in passing:
Historically, higher levels of immigration to the US are associated with lower levels of unemployment. Immigrants are catalysts for economic growth, not job-stealers.
Using the phrase “associated with” is a way to circumvent the question of causation. Potential immigrants head to places undergoing rapid economic expansion, not depressed areas without a market for excess menial labor.
This is akin to the strategy Richard Nadler used in his attempt to sell the political right on open borders in his paper entitled Immigration and the Wealth of States–the states immigrants are heading to are the states where economic growth is occurring, so just guarantee a steady stream of eighth grade graduates from Latin America and watch as the good times roll. After these immigrants stopped buying the houses they were paying for by building houses for other immigrants, and the sand states (also top destinations for illegal immigrants) led the rest of the country in mortgage defaults, Nadler stopped (at least temporarily) pushing this argument.
Granting that economic prosperity tends to attract relatively improsperous immigrants, what happens when that economic prosperity dissipates? Are large numbers of unskilled and uneducated immigrant laborers “associated with” higher or lower levels of unemployment? A snapshot of our current situation suggests that what Riley and Nadler insinuate in observing their associations is incorrect. In a recently released report, the Pew Hispanic Center provides estimates (p40) for the percentage of each state’s workforce that is comprised of illegal immigrants. This correlates with the state unemployment rates at .29 (p=.04). The relationship is modest but statistically significant–and it runs in the opposite direction of what Riley and Nadler would hope for. To the extent that the two are related, the more illegal immigrants there are working in a state, the more natives there are out of work.
Nothing to contemplate here, though. It’s best to have an excessive labor supply so that those who work for peanuts will have little choice but to be thankful that they work at all. Lower labor costs mean higher business profits right now. Government subsidy is there to cover the net liability that each member of this expanding underclass represents. Well, who creates the wealth in this country, after all? Not government! Better, then, for it, rather than industry, to pay. Let restrictionist nations like Japan go the mechanizing route–America’s competitive advantage has always been in providing ever-cheaper labor. Low-wage countries are the ones with the highest standards of living, after all, aren’t they?