Top Three Myths about Immigration

Benjamin Powell,

Release Date
May 31, 2011



Prof. Ben Powell explores the top three myths about immigration. After analyzing the data, he finds that immigrants in fact do not have negative effects on the economy, jobs, or wages.

Top 3 Myths About Immigration
The next myth is that they steal our jobs. There’s absolutely no evidence for this.
I’m Ben Powell, Professor of Economics at Suffolk University. I want to explode three popular myths about immigration.
Immigration’s a contentious issue, but unfortunately a lot of the public debate is centered on the wrong things. These three myths are that immigrants are a net drag on our economy, they steal our jobs, and they depress our wages. None of these are true. Immigrants are a net benefit to the economy. Economists who study immigration, even economists who are otherwise critical of immigration, are in almost universal agreement on this. They don’t think the net economic benefit is huge, but all agree that it’s positive.
The next myth is that they steal our jobs. There’s absolutely no evidence for this. This is a fallacy of the seen and the unseen. When an immigrant comes in, it’s obvious when we see an American worker who loses his job. But what we don’t see is that another job is created for that American. That’s why, over time, we don’t find a net increase in unemployment as immigrants come in. Think about what’s happened to the workforce in the last 60 years: massive entry of baby boomers, women, and immigrants into the workforce, but yet no increase in long-term unemployment. You still have business cycles and fluctuations in unemployment, but no long-term increase. Instead, we see as the labor force increases, so does total employment.
That brings us to wages. So we add more workers to the workforce. Mustn’t that depress U.S. wages? Again we don’t find much evidence for this. In fact, the only wage depression that economists find is when you look at just people without a high school diploma in the United States, and even there the negative effect on their wages is very small. And the reason is, immigrant labor is different than the domestic labor. They bring a different skill set. So often, immigrants who come are very highly skilled or very low skilled. A lot of U.S. labor is somewhere in the middle, moderately skilled, but very few of us are at the top of the pyramid, and very few of us are at the bottom. The result is, when immigrants come, they largely complement our talents. They don’t substitute for us. It frees American labor to do things that American labor is better suited to do. As a result, we become more productive, and they become more productive.
Whatever your position was on immigration before, if one of these three myths was holding you back, it should push you more on the margin to wanting more open borders, not less.