Why Immigration Is Depicted As Bad for the Economy When It’s Actually Good
If immigration is good for the economy, why are we always hearing the opposite?
The San Francisco Federal Reserve published a much-talked-about paper last week, documenting how increased immigration boosts the economy, keeps social security afloat, and could potentially solve the housing crisis.
Data show that, on net, immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, stimulate investment, and promote specialization that in the long run boosts productivity. Consistent with previous research, there is no evidence that these effects take place at the expense of jobs for workers born in the United States.
So why are anti-immigrant talking points so often economic and jobs-oriented?
The Brookings Institution just published a list of 7 common myths about immigration that cloud the debate from both sides. The last myth highlighted might help explain the conflict between popular attitudes toward immigration and the economy and the study's findings:
Myth #7: News stories about immigration are balanced. Studies of mainstream print and broadcast coverage in recent years have found, for instance, that news outlets are twice as likely to focus on the costs rather than benefits of immigration.
They link to a 2008 study from professors at The University of Michigan and The University of Texas–Austin, investigating the emotional component of the immigration debate and how the media's coverage skews toward stirring up anxieties rather than diffusing them.
One popular but untested suspicion is that reactions to news about the costs of immigration depend upon who the immigrants are. We confirm this suspicion in a nationally representative experiment: news about the costs of immigration boosts white opposition far more when Latino immigrants, rather than European immigrants, are featured.
The paper makes the case that it's important to separate anxiety triggered by "racial or ethnic cues" from the actual economic effects of immigration, and that it's mostly the former actually driving the debate.
Contrary to the tone of some of the recent media overage, SFFR's study also isn't the first to outline the positive economic impacts of immigration. There's been a smattering of research with complimentary findings throughout the 2000s.
Not all the research on immigration's economic impact is coming from independent academics or from economic organizations like the Fed.
Though the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the major mainstream groups driving the anti-immigrant movement, presents their case against immigration in terms of economics and advocating for American workers, much of their research was underwritten by the Pioneer Fund, a group criticized for its interest in eugenics and "racial betterment."
The [Pioneer] Fund, which has long subsidized dubious studies of the alleged links between race and intelligence, awarded FAIR $1.2 million between 1985 and 1994, according to the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism. FAIR now says that it has severed its links to the controversial Fund.
You'll notice that the great majority of works cited in FAIR's economic papers are from 1985-1994.
Misplacing the blame
In the cases of low-paying jobs where the presence of undocumented workers can pull down wages, enforcing labor standards could do more for documented and undocumented workers alike than spending billions of dollars militarizing the border and enforcing anti-immigration legislation. As Cristina Jiminez argued at The American Prospect:
Under current law, undocumented workers are at the mercy of employers to the same extent that unprotected native-born workers were before the union victories of the 1930s. Distance from those historic triumphs makes it easy to forget that when immigrants and non-immigrants are equally empowered, job quality improves and wages rise, because the common interests of immigrants and non-immigrants become much stronger than the artificial conditions that divide them.
Spending a fortune to push out immigrants won't make the country wealthier, or give us a stronger labor movement to protect citizens in low-paying jobs, either.
Braden Goyette is a staff writer for Campus Progress.
- Love Triangles With a Side of Sex-Ed: Welcome to “East Los High”
- All You Need to Know About The Heritage’s Problematic Study [LINKS]
- Approaching Mother’s Day, Undocumented Youth Ask to Reunite With Deported Mothers
- Amendments to Immigration Reform Bill Are In, See How LGBT Families Are Impacted
- Amid Immigration Reform Talks, Obama Makes His Position on LGBT Families Clear