NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 10, 2006

President Bush is taking knocks from all sides in the immigration debate over his argument that the United States needs foreign workers to fill "jobs Americans don't want." Economists on both the left and right, however, say Bush is ignoring the role of "prices" and that more Americans would happily mow lawns and bus tables if those jobs paid more than they currently do.

Unfortunately, says the Wall Street Journal, if we could somehow seal the border, the country's labor market would adjust to the shrinking supply of labor; but America would become a less competitive and hence poorer country -- because we'd have less human capital, and because we'd be what we did have less efficiently.

For example:

  • Most economic studies have found only a very small negative immigration impact on the wages of even the lowest-skilled American workers; instead, immigrants often fill niche markets and bring varied skills.
  • Immigrants also increase the demand for labor, not just the supply; that is, they are also consumers who create jobs by buying goods and housing here.
  • The same jobs that foreign workers now fill would not exist in their absence; seal the border, and what you'd see is not the same number of jobs at higher wages but, rather, fewer of these types of jobs overall in the United States.

Unlike some of his critics, Bush appreciates the absurdity of closing off our markets to foreign labor but not to, say, foreign capital and foreign technology and foreign goods, says the Wall Street Journal. Bush also understands that immigrants play a key role in growing the United States economy, which doesn't exist in a vacuum and shouldn't have an immigration policy that pretends otherwise.

Source: Editorial, "Jobs Americans Won't Do," Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2006.

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