In contrast to the broad consensus that exists regarding the benefits of highly skilled immigration, the economic role of low-skilled immigrants remains one of the most controversial questions in the immigration debate. Economists continue to disagree about the costs and benefits of less-skilled immigrants, as well as the policies that govern their admission to the United States.

The report’s author, Harry J. Holzer, who served as chief economist in the U.S Department of Labor in the Clinton Administration and is now a professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, writes that from an economic perspective the goals of U.S immigration policy the goals should

  • maximize the benefits of less-skilled immigration to the productivity of the U.S. economy
  • minimize the potential costs of such immigration to less-educated native-born American workers, and
  • help integrate less-educated immigrants without hurting the U.S economy.

Holzer is clear that any change to immigration policy would have a different impact on different groups of Americans, saying that what would benefit consumers could hurt low-skilled workers.

1. Since immigrant workers are consumers of local goods this consumption helps set off, partially at least, their impact on the labor market.
2. The least educated immigrant workers concentrate on jobs that require very little interaction with customers and no reading/writing work. From this perspective their impact is greater on other immigrants than on native-born workers.
3. Employers utilize low-wage low-skilled immigrants to do certain jobs that would disappear if immigrants were not available.

The study also notes that less-educated immigrants have an impact on public services, especially emergency rooms and public schools, generating a drain at the local level. But less-skilled immigrants, authorized and undocumented, pay taxes, including Social Security.

These aggregate surplus estimates are invariably small when computed as percentages of Gross Domestic Product because immigrants remain fairly small parts of the workforce and their impacts on wages are small as well.

Consumers also benefit from the lower prices of goods and services as a result of lower wages.

It is also clear that changes in immigration policy would leave many other issues and concerns unaddressed. While unskilled immigration has clearly not been the major source of economic difficulty experienced by less educated native born Americans in recent years, the loss of earnings and employment that have experienced in the past few decades remains profound.

The full report:

MPI report

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