NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2008

As the U.S. economy softens, look for anti-immigrant sentiment to harden, at least in the short run, says author Jason L. Riley.  For instance, during a hearing last week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) argued that before we hand out more H-2B visas for foreign seasonal workers, who come mostly from Mexico, the job prospects of Americans should be considered.

How the job opportunities of U.S. workers are impacted by foreign migrants has always been one of the more contentious elements of the immigration debate.  During economic slowdowns, concerns about "job-stealing immigrants" tend to grow.  The common assumption is that a job filled by an immigrant is one less job for a native.

But this reasoning is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how our labor markets operate, says Riley.  The U.S. job market is not a zero-sum game.  The number of jobs is not static.  It's fluid, which is how we want it to be:

  • In 2006, 55 million U.S. workers either quit their jobs or were fired.
  • Yet 57 million people were hired over the same period. In a typical year, a third of our workforce turns over.

Immigrants help keep our labor markets flexible:

  • These markets enable workers and employers alike to find the employment situation that suits them best.
  • Flexible labor markets make it easier for an employee who doesn't like his job to find another position somewhere else.
  • And flexible labor markets make it more likely that an employer will expand his workforce or take a chance on a less experienced job-seeker.

America's political left goes gaga over Europe's universal health care, 35-hour work week, and six-week vacation mandates.  But protectionism has a downside: For decades, the Continent has had consistently higher unemployment and lower productivity than what's found here, says Riley.

Source: Jason L. Riley, "Immigrant Scapegoats," Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2008.

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