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Who’s Afraid of Low-Skill Immigrants?

By: Fergus Hodgson - @FergHodgson - Jan 6, 2015, 11:53 am

EspañolThey took our jobs!” We’ve all heard the trope against immigrants, legal and illegal. It echoes so widely, one could be forgiven for believing it.

NumbersUSA fear mongers want to blame immigrants for US employment problems. If they really cared for economics, they would encourage more immigrants to come and create new opportunities. (NumbersUSA Facebook)
Fear mongers blame immigrants for employment problems. If they cared for economics, rather than xenophobia, they would encourage more immigration. (NumbersUSA Facebook)

However, the nativist veneer of economic rationale is phony. Not only is immigration a boost to an economy, the purported job protectors target those least likely to compete with US residents in the labor market, who just happen to appear different from locals.

For those who honestly see foreigners as an economic threat, and are not inciting populist fury, consider research from Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. Regarding whether immigrants increase economic growth, she explains that both high- and low-skill immigrants have a positive impact.

In fact, immigrants disproportionately initiate new businesses, at twice the rate of natives — not that you’ll hear about it from xenophobia factories such as NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies. These outlets rely on the economic fallacy of the broken window and fail to mention that, in Furchtgott-Roth’s words, immigrants “typically complement, rather than displace, the skills of the native-born labor market.”

Just as international trade is mutually beneficial on account of comparative advantage, so too is immigration. In particular, as low-skill immigrants offer services at a lower cost, they create more managerial positions for established residents. Their efficiency also frees up resources for investment and expansion elsewhere in the economy, akin to labor-saving technology.

Agreement is a rarity in economics, but there is almost unanimous support among academics regarding the merits of immigration. Of 46 economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal, 44 agreed that illegal immigration had been beneficial, and in a survey of the American Economic Association, only one out of six thought US immigration was too high.

As an immigrant in the United States myself, personal experience suggests the jobs banner is a smokescreen for xenophobia and, dare I say it, racism. I happen to be a native-English speaker from New Zealand, college educated in the United States. Would you rather compete for a job against me or a Spanish-speaking arrival who has taken the Beast on his way from El Salvador?

For the vast majority of US residents, the answer is obvious. Yet the Salvadoran, the most vulnerable of the two, is the one who takes the heat. Those who would clamp down on immigration even tell me we need more people in my mold.

Not without irony, more from the Anglosphere would come, if they were eligible and could get through the bureaucracy. Instead, the closest and most desperate of foreigners defy the inhumane laws and struggle on as not even second-class citizens.

Those who make it here and engage peacefully in the economy merit our personal support, not condemnation and ostracism.

Fergus Hodgson Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson was the founding editor in chief of the PanAm Post, up until January 2016, and he now studies finance at Tulane University in Louisiana and Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. Originally from New Zealand, he has also lived in Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, and the United States. Follow @FergHodgson and his Facebook page.