NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 14, 2005

For immigration to succeed, we need to control it, says the Washington Post's Robert J. Samuelson. Indeed, we must recognize that the huge and largely uncontrolled inflow of unskilled Latino workers into the United States increasingly sabotages the assimilation process.

A recent study by Harvard University economists George Boras and Lawrence Katz found that Mexicans are now the single largest group of U.S. immigrants -- 30 percent of the total as of the 2000 census. Among men, one in 20 workers is now a Mexican immigrant, whereas in 1970 less than one in 100 were.

While some Mexican-Americans have made spectacular gains, the overall picture is dispiriting. Borjas and Kats found, in 2000:

  • The majority of Mexican workers lacked a high school diploma (63 percent for men, 57 percent for women lacked diplomas), while only 3 percent of the men and 5 percent of the women had college degrees.
  • The average wages for Mexican workers were 41 percent lower than average U.S. wages for men and 33 percent lower for women.
  • Children of Mexican immigrants do not advance quickly and have lower levels of educational achievement and wages than most native-born workers; among men, the wage gap was 27 percent; 21 percent were high school dropouts and only 11 percent were college graduates.

Low skills seem to explain most of the gap, Borjas says. Indeed, after correcting for education and age, most of the wage gap disappears.

Samuelson says for today's Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal), the closest competitors are tomorrow's Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal). The more who arrive, the harder it will be for existing low-skilled workers to advance.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Candor on Immigration," Washington Post, June 8, 2005 and George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz, "The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the U.S. Labor Market," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 11281, April 2005.

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