Are Illegal Immigrants Taking Jobs from Americans?

February 18, 2013

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,

linear-regression-image.php

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?


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