Are Illegal Immigrants Taking Jobs from Americans?

Your answer to that question will probably depend on your political views. Illegal immigration is much more of concern for Republicans than Democrats. According to a Gallup 82 percent of Republicans but only 48 percent of Democrats believed that stopping illegal immigration is a top priority. And one of the common arguments for this seems to be the idea that illegals take jobs from Americans. But is there a way to objectively answer the question?

I think there is. If we look at the unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the statistics of illegals from Slate/PEW, there is a connection. If we compare these data using a scatter chart this becomes evident,


The X-axis shows unemployment by state and the Y-axis shows the illegal immigrants as a percentage of the state population.  The steepness of the regression line illustrates the correlation between the two variables, in this case it’s roughly 0.5. That is a clear indication that there is some type of connection.

Still, correlation is not necessarily causation. We could have a reversed causation or third factors affecting both variables. As for reversed causation, that would mean that high unemployment in and of itself would somehow attract illegals, which seems highly unlikely. After all, high unemployment means fewer jobs and that’s what they came for in the first place. As for third factors, this also looks unlikely. The bad economy is of course a global phenomenon which causes hard times both in America and Mexico, thus giving rise to unemployment as well as illegal immigration. But it doesn’t explain why illegals would seek out the states with high unemployment.

The most obvious reasons that those jumping the fence end up in certain states seems to be geographical proximity. If we look at Slate’s map chart it is clear that the border states along with Nevada, the non-border state closest to Mexico, are the most popular.

This does suggest that illegals do take jobs from Americans. And it raises some tough questions regarding the future of the border states. What happens when illegals become citizens? If they do, they will no longer be attractive on the job market. Will new illegals take their place and eventually become citizens creating a never ending influx of Mexicans to America? That, of course, is impossible – the entire population of Mexico can’t live in America.

But even if illegal immigration is stopped today, there are a lot of problems facing the border states.  When illegals become legals they can no longer boost businesses by offering lower than minimum wage pays, so tax revenues from these businesses shrink. At the same time they will become eligible for various entitlements, which will increase public spending in a time when America’s public debt is large and increasing.

It’s hard not think that  in the future this will mean that minimum wages will have to come down to fight unemployment (Californian unemployment is at 10-11 percent as it is). And the quality of healthcare, education, other public services will decrease drastically as all these new citizens will require the services but without creating any tax revenues to pay for it. If this process goes far enough the border states will in most aspects become the northern part of Mexico rather than the south western part of America.

A strategy of dimishing returns?

A strategy of diminishing returns?

8 Responses to Are Illegal Immigrants Taking Jobs from Americans?

  1. adambnoel says:

    “If this process goes far enough the border states will in most aspects become the northern part of Mexico rather than the south western part of America”

    I agree with this. I think globalization as a whole is going to have the effect of first world standards converging towards those of the third world but it will be most pronounced in places like south western America.

  2. Staffan says:

    It’s happening in Europe too but yes, the border between the US and Mexico is where it’s most pronounced. The Finns keep their border against Russia closely guarded for similar reasons. Finland and USA have the same GDP per capita and Russia and Mexico have fairly similar GDPs too.

  3. Alan says:

    Coming home to roost – SW US was originally Mexico/Spanish-colonial anyway. As Adam’s point directs us, the only real answer is to improve the rest of the world as well. Isolation is ending, for good or bad.

  4. Staffan says:

    While it may seem that isolation is ending, I think it is just taking on new forms. There has been a White exodus from California in recent years. I think this influx of uneducated people with IQs around 85 replacing educated middle class Whites will become a serious problem for California. The movie industry has to a great extent already left and the state is at the top of unemployment and bottom of the Job Creation Index. At some point there is going to be a reaction to this in the form of demand of more border protection and deporting of illegals.

  5. Alan says:

    The US has pretty well established itself in a conundrum where we cannot exclude immigrants or control immigration. The liberals think it is only fair to let them in and the conservatives with money want cheep labor. The only ones who want to keep the immigrants out are the middle class conservatives who have few votes and little power. The only way to stop them is to improve the wages in Mexico & etc. such that they choose to stay home.

    • Staffan says:

      Liberals probably also like immigration as a way to win elections. But the conservatives who pretend to be real patriots and then hurt their own country for a few bucks are the worst.

      According to Wikipedia the minimum wage in Mexico is around 7 pesos an hour compared to 7.25 dollars an hour in the US. That’s 10 times as much. It’s hard to see Mexico matching American wages in the foreseeable future.

      • Alan says:

        Most decisions are made from habit. Most non-politicians are not in the habit of decisions based on election potential. In my experience, liberals think and decide in terms of ‘fairness’. Liberal professors have been telling students for the last 50 years of how US business leaders have been bribing congress for the last 100 years to pressure Latin American governments to crush labor unions and any other pro-labor policies (to the extent of sending in the Marines to replace uncooperative governors). That keeps not only the wages low, but government revenue low as well – so few schools or other infrastructure get built, and the countries languish. After ‘all we’ve done to them’, allowing their citizens access to our entry level jobs seems only fair to liberals who have been so educated.

  6. Staffan says:

    That may be true. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has found that liberals are basing their decisions more on the idea of fairness (and care for others) than conservatives who have a more allround approach.

    Maybe allowing clever indians to access American academic jobs would be a wake up call for the liberals. People rarely see a problem unless they are personally affected.

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