Would importing millions more taxpayers, through legal immigration, make our crushing federal deficit more manageable, as several economists indicate? Or take away our jobs and load us up with welfare bums, as restrictionists argue?
The right answer would be very helpful as America faces enormous decisions about debt and immigration over the coming weeks.
The “scary” won’t leave our debt problem as long as 1.7 taxpayers support one entitlement recipient on average. No matter what we do with the rest of government, that ratio is “unsustainable” according to the GAO. Importing enough taxpayers to bring that ratio to 2.4 would wipe out our current deficit. Importing more, or wasting less, would then enable us to reduce our debt.
That is, if legal immigrants benefit our economy like natural born citizens.
There could hardly be less national consensus about that critical question.
The debate is well encapsulated in the battle of articles between “Who Got Jobs During the Obama Presidency?” and the tag team of “Immigrants did not take your job” and “Nativist Group Releases Hopelessly Flawed Report on Immigrants and Job Creation”.
“Who Got Jobs…” argues that most of the additional jobs created during the past four Obama years didn’t go to citizens but were were snapped up by legal immigrants, of whom we “possibly” have too many. It stops short of claiming to prove there is “job competition between immigrants and natives”, calling that only “possible”, something which politicians should “discuss”. The study was published just before the election by the Center for Immigration Studies whose research is directed by Steven Camarota.
“Immigrants did not take your job” criticizes CIS for not considering that when immigrants do take the same kind of jobs that citizens seek but don’t take, it is often because immigrants are more willing to move where the jobs are. But generally, the more immigration, the greater the benefit to citizens and our economy, wrote author Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute economist, citing several other economists. He said CIS “ignores the mass of scholarly evidence that immigrants and natives rarely compete and often complement each other in the labor market.”
Nowrasteh told me later, “One great way for the government to increase revenues without increasing taxes is to allow for the immigration of willing workers to come to the United States. …The limits should be determined by concerns for health and safety…Other than that, the…demand…should be the main limit on numerical immigration….we should remove bureaucrats from the equation….having more workers and more taxpayers, all else being equal, is usually better for the budget. There are concerns that some people have about immigrant use of welfare and social services. Those are vastly overblown. Most of the evidence points to the fact that immigrants are a positive net benefit…over the long run.”
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CIS concluded that “…67 percent of employment growth has gone to immigrants…primarily legal immigrants….”
But its “Table 1” shows that 76 percent is the figure if you count back over 12 years. That conflicts with the thesis of its headline and lead sentence, that immigrant job-grabbing increased under Obama.
And 92 percent is the figure over 12 years, Camarota told me later, if you only count workers aged 18-65, who “are 95 percent of all workers”, and not the younger or older workers which the CIS study counts.
This illustrates how to get the results you want by deciding who and when to count.
The youngest and oldest are primarily part time and temporary workers, who seasonally gain jobs in summer and lose them after Christmas. CIS began its survey with a 1st quarter, after Christmas, and ended with a third quarter, during summer. Thus native-born temps gained 1,394,000 jobs during the time the native full timers gained only 400,000 jobs. Meanwhile immigrants of all ages, who do a lot of part time and temporary work such as construction, gained over five million jobs.
So the apparent job-grabbing advantage of immigrants over natives, and of the part time over the full time age brackets, is greatly exaggerated by using seasonally unadjusted data.
Nowrasteh commented, “Steven used seasonally unadjusted data. An error that an introductory econometrics teacher would have called him on. This goes against not only standard practices and but also the advice of the Bureau of Labor Statistics when comparing employment data over time.”
The link to that BLS advice was given by Patrick Oakford in “Nativist Group Releases Hopelessly Flawed Report on Immigrants and Job Creation”, as he explained why unadjusted data is misleading.
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Oakford questions the sincerity of a study that “when counting…immigrants, includes naturalized citizens” in its effort to prove that “… two-thirds of the net increase in employment…has gone to immigrant workers…” CIS admits as much, eventually: “immigrants [as CIS calls them are] referred to as the foreign-born by Census Bureau… [they are] not U.S. citizens at birth. It includes naturalized citizens….”
One might assume from reading CIS that “foreign born” citizens among CIS’ count of “immigrants” are insignificant. But Oakford wrote “45.5 percent of all employed immigrants in 2012 are naturalized citizens.” He said it is the naturalized citizens in that group who have had regular, consistent job growth over the past 4 years, while non-citizen immigrants have been losing jobs every year until this year.
Oakford added, “And as if counting naturalized citizens in the immigrant category is bad enough, CIS double dips by counting naturalized citizens as immigrants when they are employed, but counting them with the native-born when they are unemployed.”
CIS did the latter in saying “there are currently an enormous number of working-age, adult (18 to 65) native-born Americans not working – 50.8 million. If we include naturalized citizens the number is 54.7 million.”
In 2004, CIS counted natural born citizens as illegals.
We must conclude that the strongest, most current economic argument against legal immigration doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
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It is self evident that the number of jobs generally grows in proportion to the population. Each new worker who takes a job, also creates one, on average, by purchasing the services of others. In Nowrasteh’s words, as “immigrants, like all people, demand goods, services, and real estate they stimulate the production of those items, creating employment opportunities.” But the larger the brain pool of people living in freedom and safety, the greater the technology they can support; the more luxuries they enjoy; the more food they can produce; and the stronger they are against their enemies.
It should also be self evident that the health of our economy requires the whole range of human talents. We don’t need bureaucrats deciding which immigrants aren’t skilled enough to help us, any more than we need geneticists and abortionists letting only doctors and lawyers be born.
Several other problems besides economic concerns are alleged with more legal immigration. Most can be solved by incentives for meeting our requirements, like speedy processing. A couple of them can only be addressed by untangling convoluted rhetoric.
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Repealing numerical limitations on legal immigration, so we can import enough taxpayers to make our deficit manageable, may be our only way to save ourselves. That possibility at least merits serious discussion.