Myths Surrounding Immigrants “Stealing Jobs” Still Prevail

With the announcement this past November of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, a long simmering debate has once again boiled over – do immigrants ‘steal’ jobs from American workers? While recent polls reveal that the majority of Americans favor some form of a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, they also suggest that Americans are generally only comfortable supporting immigration when the immigrants in question have a different socio-economic standing than themselves. This points to a deep-rooted fear that foreign nationals in the United States take jobs from Americans if they have equivalent skills and education. However, leading economists agree that opening up our borders actually has the opposite effect. Research has consistently shown that immigrants create jobs and boost our economy when given the opportunity to pursue a life in America. [See Debunking the Myth of the Job Stealing Immigrant, by Adam Davidson, The New York Times, 24.Mar.2015.]

On the surface, it may appear that immigrants are a potential threat to American job seekers. After all, it seems intuitive that there are only a finite number of jobs available, and that an influx of immigrant workers reduces the overall available employment. However, there is a major inherent fallacy in this line of thinking – it neglects to take into account that immigrants are not only jobseekers, but consumers, as well. Like virtually all Americans, immigrants pump the money they earn back into the economy by renting apartments, upgrading their mobile phones, and going out to dinner. By simply living their lives, immigrants increase demand for labor. This is illustrated by the work of David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. His research on the Mariel boatlift, a mass migration of Cuban immigrants into Miami in 1980, revealed that a mere four months after their arrival, labor supply in the city had increased by seven percent, with no measurable impact on wages or employment for those who had already been living and working in Miami. [See Busting the Myth of the Job Stealing Immigrant, by Walter Ewing, Immigration Impact, 14.Jun.2013.]

Those who oppose immigration expansion will counter that, while immigrants may improve an already healthy economy, they surely played a role in exacerbating the severe recession in the United States that began in 2009, particularly with regard to the decline of industrial “blue-collar” jobs that had been the economic backbone of many regions of the country for generations. Not so, according to Yale University economist Gerald D. Jaynes, who argues that competition between native-born Americans and immigrants for blue-collar jobs “is swamped by a constellation of other factors (such as declining factory jobs and other blue collar employment).” Despite an extensive “large scale national analysis to measure immigration’s effects on wages and employment of natives nationwide … our results showed either no effects or very modest effects” of immigration on the job prospects of native-born, blue-collar workers. And data resulting from a 2011 American Community Survey, a small sampling of the population taken every year and sponsored by the American Census Bureau, confirmed that at the national level, there is no relation between unemployment rates and the presence of immigrants who arrived in the year 2000 or later.

While it is certainly encouraging that the majority of Americans now support some kind of immigration reform, it is also clear that fear and ignorance can still cloud our perception. Top economic experts agree that opening our borders to immigrants benefits all Americans. But, opponents still spread misinformation about foreigners “stealing” jobs. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to stop viewing immigrants as a threat and to instead welcome them as a fundamental element of our nation’s success and the continuation of the American dream.


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