Commentary

We Should Be Thankful for Immigrants


     
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Many of us will travel today to visit friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s the time of year we remember all the reasons we are thankful.

This year I’m particularly thankful for immigrants. In fact, I’m grateful for those who come here legally and for those who come here illegally.

You should be thankful, too.

I say this with the so-called “immigration crisis” in mind—both here and abroad. Although many people emigrate to the United States and Europe to escape troubled places like Iraq and Syria, not to mention poverty in Latin America, Africa and Asia, we have several reasons to be thankful they do.

Immigrants spawn job creation. Immigrants don’t just bring their labor to the United States; they bring their needs, too. Just as native workers demand food, clothing, housing and entertainment, so, too, do immigrants. That creates job opportunities. A recent study by researchers at Indiana University and the University of Virginia, for instance, found that each new immigrant produces about 1.2 new jobs. Most of these new positions are filled by domestic workers.

Typically, we hear that immigrants “take our jobs.” If this were true, however, we would expect the unemployment rate to rise significantly as these new workers enter the labor force. That has not happened.

The unemployment rate in 1960 was 5.5 percent. Since then, tens of millions of immigrants have come to the United States. By 2000, nearly 4.5 million “undocumented” Mexicans had entered the country. Between 1959-70 alone, almost half a million Cubans moved to the U.S. Add to this the millions who have come here from the rest of the world, with and without permission. Nevertheless, in 2015, as we continue to recover from the last recession, unemployment is at 5.5 percent. The fact is, there are a lot more jobs today, with the wave of immigrants, than there were in 1960.

Immigrants boost the overall economy. Although many who oppose immigration worry about a “drain on social services,” this is likely unfounded. In 2013 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in one of the most comprehensive studies of immigration in 28 countries, found that immigrants consistently add significantly more to an economy than they use in public services. In the United States the average immigrant household pays about $11,000 a year more in taxes than it receives in government benefits.

As low-skilled immigrants join the U.S. workforce they “free up” higher-skilled workers to undertake more productive activities to which they are better-suited. In other words, low-skilled immigrants enable the economy to afford greater specialization. As people specialize further, the economy grows, and everyone is made better off.

Immigration reduces poverty. Many foreign workers make more money in the United States than in their home countries. Researchers from the Center for Global Development and World Bank found that, by moving to the United States, a Peruvian worker, for example, earns 2.6 times more than he would make at home. For other countries, this “place premium” is higher. A Filipino worker makes 3.5 times more in the United States than in the Philippines. Haitians earn nearly eight times more.

This has substantial implications for poverty around the world. By allowing labor to flow into the United States, we could reduce human suffering much more effectively than current government efforts—such as foreign aid—to combat poverty. Moreover, many immigrants send a portion of their incomes back home. These remittances substantially benefit their poor families, in many cases providing more money and opportunities than foreign aid.

So when we gather with family and friends to give thanks for all we have, remember those who have recently arrived in our country. Immigrants boost our economy, create jobs and reduce poverty around the world. I’m glad they’re here.


Abigail R. Hall Blanco is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa. She received her Ph.D. from George Mason University. Her work includes topics surrounding women's issues in business and the family, civil and economic liberty, the U.S. military and national defense, including, domestic police militarization, arms sales, weapons as foreign aid, and the political economy of military technology.