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‘U.S.-born workers’ without college degrees benefit from low immigration: study


‘Allowing wages to rise, partly by reducing immigration, would certainly help low-income Americans directly and increase the incentive to get back into the labor market,’ expert says

Workers born in America make more money when immigration rates are lower, according to an analysis published by an immigration research group.

The Center for Immigration Studies looked at weekly earnings for full-time workers between 2012 and 2022 and concluded that lower rates of immigration help Americans without college degrees.

The analysis concluded that “real (inflation-adjusted) median weekly earnings for U.S.-born workers without a bachelor’s increased more quickly during the period of lower legal and illegal immigration from 2016 to 2019 than in periods of higher immigration before and after.”

The author of the study told The College Fix via a recent email interview how he hopes policymakers use the information.

“The 60-year decline in the labor force participation rate — the share of working-age people working or looking for work — needs to be discussed more publicly and recognized for the social disaster than it is. Improving it should be a national goal,” Steven Camarota said.

“The falloff in labor force participation is associated with numerous undesirable outcomes such as substance abuse, welfare dependency, mental health issues, crime, failure to form a family, and even an early death,” he said. “The explanations for the long-term labor-force decline are as varied as the proposed solutions.”

He said that it is clear President Donald Trump’s first three years, when immigration was lower, helped raise wages. Lowering immigration might include “reducing family-based immigration and getting rid of the visa lottery; also, enforcing immigration laws is necessary as well.”

“Allowing wages to rise, partly by reducing immigration, would certainly help low-income Americans directly and increase the incentive to get back into the labor market,” Camarota said.

He said that simply importing foreign workers ignores the plight of Americans.

He said “for the less academically oriented folks we still want them to live productive lives” and noted that there are millions of people needed to fill service jobs, such as maintenance, landscaping and construction. Camarota said “filling these jobs with immigrants lets us ignore the plight of less-educated Americans.

MORE: Biden immigration rule will harm American college grads, expert warns

The study found that there was also a higher labor force participation rate when immigration decreased.

“As with the rise in earnings for the less-educated, U.S.-born, the increase in labor force participation during the period of lower immigration is consistent with the possibility that the non-college-educated, U.S.-born may have benefited from the immigration slow-down,” the paper stated.

The research criticizes the “often-made argument that the U.S. economy must have very high levels of immigration to prosper” by pointing out the good economic conditions during the period of lower immigration from 2016 to 2019.”

“A large number of public figures have called for more immigration to lower wages in order to help check inflation,” the paper concluded. “But those who wish to use immigration to further reduce earnings need to consider the impact on workers whose income is already not keeping pace with inflation, especially those whose income is low to begin with.”

The Fix reached out to Willow Lung-Amam, an immigration researcher with the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Maryland. Lung-Amam “has written extensively on suburban poverty, racial segregation, immigration, residential and commercial gentrification, redevelopment politics, and neighborhood opportunity,” according to her bio at the think tank.

She did not respond to two emailed requests for comment in the past two weeks on the report and what she believes would be the best immigration policy to balance the needs of Americans and foreigners.

Editor’s noteThe article was updated with further details on the inquiry to Professor Lung-Amam.

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About the Author
Dakota Powell -- Wheaton College