NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2007

Immigration has more far-reaching consequences than merely depressing wages and lowering employment rates of low-skilled African-American males: its effects also appear to push some would-be workers into crime and, later, into prison, according to researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

According to their analysis:

  • Using census data from 1960 to 2000, they found a 10 percent rise in immigrants in a particular skill group significantly trimmed the wages of black and white men alike.
  • For African-Americans, the decline was 3.6 percent; for whites, it was actually slightly higher: 3.8 percent.

Beyond that, however, the black-white experience differed markedly, especially for low-skilled workers.  Take employment rates:

  • From 1960 to 2000, black high school dropouts saw their employment rates drop 33 percentage points -- from 88.6 percent to 55.7 percent.
  • The decrease for white high school dropouts was only roughly half that -- from 94.1 percent to 76.0 percent.

Why would a boost in immigration effectively put more men, especially black men, behind bars?  The authors put forward a straightforward theory: workers -- especially those with the lowest skills -- turn to crime to increase their income. Consider:

  • The rise in incarceration is most dramatic for the lowest-skilled black men; in 1980, it was just 1.3 percent and by 2000, it had skyrocketed to 25.1 percent.
  • Even blacks with a high school diploma saw incarceration rates increase from 0.5 percent to 9.8 percent in the same time period.

The authors stress that immigration is only one factor in the worsening labor situation of low-skilled African-American men.  The 1980-2000 immigrant influx, therefore, only explains part of the decline in wages and employment, and  the increase of the incarceration rates among blacks.

Source: Laurent Belsie, "Effects of Immigration on African-American Employment and Incarceration," NBER Digest, May 2007; based upon: George Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger, and Gordon Hanson, " Immigration And African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response Of Wages, Employment, And Incarceration To Labor Supply Shocks," NBER Working Paper #12518, September 2006.

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