Is Immigration Hurting the U.S. Economy?
Over seven hundred thousand permanent residency visas are being issued to immigrants each year, with hundreds of thousands more crossing the borders illegally. Studies done by the Census Bureau show that over ten percent of the U.S. population is made up of immigrants and their families. With the recession in full swing the argument over the role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy is once again being debated.
When immigration became a hot topic several years ago the primary argument was the drain that they were placing on the U.
S. economy. Those opposed to immigration state that immigrants are stealing American jobs, taking advantage of state and federally funded programs such as welfare and Medicaid and causing the national crime rate to rise as the population in low income areas continued to grow. Others argue that immigrants are creating jobs by allowing companies to manufacture more products at lower operating costs and encouraging expansion, are not permitted to abuse the federal system and are more likely to be employed than unemployed, and serve as a buffer connecting high crime areas with working society.
The argument that immigrants are taking American jobs is an old one, but one that has become a major issue as the unemployment rate continues to rise. Reuters’s Pedro Nicolaci da Costa states that the U.S. unemployment rate is expected to top nine percent before the recession is over, a record high. With the unemployment rate already higher than it has been seen since 1992 job security is a major issue for today’s American worker. As the supply of jobs falls due to sweeping layoffs, the rising demand for work by a growing population has caused a great deal of concern.
Taking the argument against immigration one step further is the belief that because immigrants are willing to work for lower wages they are going to be responsible for forcing Americans to work for lower salaries to keep their jobs. A study done by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that “a one percent immigrant increase in the composition of lower skilled occupations reduces wages for native workers by 0.8 percent” (Bunis 5). This could be expected to result in a twelve percent decrease in American salaries (Bunis 6). With unemployment rates rising more families are being forced to live on single incomes while struggling to keep up with a rising cost of living. These families cannot afford to have their wages decreased.
On the reverse side of the argument is the belief that, by allowing companies to manufacture more goods at lower operating costs and increase their market share, immigrants are actually helping to create U.S. jobs (Sisk). Immigrant workers account for the production of between one billion and ten billion dollars of the Gross Domestic Product (Sisk). As companies are able to increase their market share without dramatically increasing their operating costs they are able to expand, hiring more employees to continue increasing production on the lower levels and more upper level management to oversee them. These same individuals also argue that immigrants contribute to job growth in the U.S. by taking jobs in areas and industries where labor is scarce. Without the immigrant population production levels can be expected to decrease, and supply and demand will continue to drive up the cost of goods and services (Siciliano).
These same parties also argue that immigrants are not responsible for the decrease in wages. “Opponents argue that layoffs and the failure of minimum wage hikes to keep up with inflation, as well as increases in technology and globalization of the economy, also play a role in declining wages for low skilled workers” (Sisk). Over the years minimum wage has risen, and it is expected to rise again to $7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009 (U.S. Department of Labor). This has not been sufficient to compensate for inflation and the rising cost of living, however, contributing to the recession and driving employers to search for cheaper labor.
Those who believe that immigration is hurting the U.S. economy state that the number of low income immigrant families in the U.S. has increased the dependence on state and federally funded assistance programs such as Medicaid, welfare and FAMIS. Studies done by the Center for Immigration studies show that immigrants cost the government $2.5 billion in Medicaid costs, $2.2 billion dollars in medical treatment for the uninsured and $1.9 billion dollars in food assistance programs (specifically food stamps, WIC and free school lunches). These numbers are continuing to rise, and in the face of budget cuts to schools and to other government assistance programs such as Medicare immigrants are essentially taking valuable services away from
American families and expecting American taxpayers to support them.
Although these numbers are indisputable, opponents to this point of view point out that this same study shows that most immigrant families do work and pay taxes. Their lack of education and their inability to find high paying jobs because of it means that although these families are paying taxes, their taxes don’t compensate for the amount of money drawn in public assistance. It is not a lack of willingness to work that causes this deficit, however. These same individuals speculate that as education programs go into effect and the minimum wage continues to rise these low income families may be able to begin earning more while at the same time continuing to contribute to American economic growth. They also point out that, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, immigrants are responsible for a net benefit of $7 billion for Social Security and Medicare, an effect they say is “unambiguously positive.”
Finally, the argument exists that the increase in low income population in the U.S. as a result of continuous immigration will result in an increase in the crime rate. In the 1990s the crime rate dropped dramatically as a result of an economic boom, when the per capita income increased by as much as thirty percent (Levitt). Studies done by the Center for Immigration Studies have shown that immigrant families account for twenty two percent of the population of the United States currently living in poverty, and a similar study done by the Christian Association for Prison Aftercare showed that children who grow up in homes plagued by poverty, such as a low income household in the middle of an economic recession, are more likely to become criminals as teens and adults. A strong economy leaves Americans provided for. When that economy is gone and the number of low income families struggling to make ends meet is on the rise there is bound to be a backlash in the increase of criminal activity.
Supporters of continuous immigration argue that immigrants actually help to lower the crime rate by forming a buffer (Sisk). These immigrant families serve to connect low income families with the working class, and their strong sense of community helps to deter the inclination to launch a life of crime. Essentially, immigrants are standing in the way of a rise in the crime rate rather than encouraging it.
The bottom line is that immigration has become a controversial issue in the U.S. in the face of recession. The effect that the more than thirty million immigrants living in the U.S. have had on the recession continues to be a source of debate.
Camarota, Steven. “Immigrants in the United States, 2007”. November 2007. Center for
Immigrant Studies. 17 February, 2009. http://www.cis.org/articles/2007/back1007.html
da Costa, Pedro Nicolaci. “U.S. Unemployment to Top 9 Percent, Recession to Deepen”. 19
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Employment Standards Administration. “Compliance Assistance-Fair Labor Standards Act
(FLSA)”. 4 March, 2009. United States Department of Labor. 4 March, 2009. <
Levitt, Sandra. “Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s”. Journal of Economic
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Sisk, Christopher. “Immigration and Its Influence on the U.S.” 2008. Louisiana State University.
17 February, 2009. < http://www.lsu.edu/faculty/jwither/
“The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget.” 2002. Center for
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Williams, J. “Poverty and Crime.” 2007. Christian Association for Prison Aftercare. 25 February,
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