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Principles of Microeconomics

15.3 Immigration

Principles of Microeconomics15.3 Immigration
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Welcome to Economics!
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Economics Is and Why It's Important
    3. 1.2 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
    4. 1.3 How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
    5. 1.4 How Economies Can Be Organized: An Overview of Economic Systems
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Choice in a World of Scarcity
    1. Introduction to Choice in a World of Scarcity
    2. 2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint
    3. 2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices
    4. 2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  4. 3 Demand and Supply
    1. Introduction to Demand and Supply
    2. 3.1 Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium in Markets for Goods and Services
    3. 3.2 Shifts in Demand and Supply for Goods and Services
    4. 3.3 Changes in Equilibrium Price and Quantity: The Four-Step Process
    5. 3.4 Price Ceilings and Price Floors
    6. 3.5 Demand, Supply, and Efficiency
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  5. 4 Labor and Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Labor and Financial Markets
    2. 4.1 Demand and Supply at Work in Labor Markets
    3. 4.2 Demand and Supply in Financial Markets
    4. 4.3 The Market System as an Efficient Mechanism for Information
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  6. 5 Elasticity
    1. Introduction to Elasticity
    2. 5.1 Price Elasticity of Demand and Price Elasticity of Supply
    3. 5.2 Polar Cases of Elasticity and Constant Elasticity
    4. 5.3 Elasticity and Pricing
    5. 5.4 Elasticity in Areas Other Than Price
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  7. 6 Consumer Choices
    1. Introduction to Consumer Choices
    2. 6.1 Consumption Choices
    3. 6.2 How Changes in Income and Prices Affect Consumption Choices
    4. 6.3 Labor-Leisure Choices
    5. 6.4 Intertemporal Choices in Financial Capital Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  8. 7 Cost and Industry Structure
    1. Introduction to Cost and Industry Structure
    2. 7.1 Explicit and Implicit Costs, and Accounting and Economic Profit
    3. 7.2 The Structure of Costs in the Short Run
    4. 7.3 The Structure of Costs in the Long Run
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  9. 8 Perfect Competition
    1. Introduction to Perfect Competition
    2. 8.1 Perfect Competition and Why It Matters
    3. 8.2 How Perfectly Competitive Firms Make Output Decisions
    4. 8.3 Entry and Exit Decisions in the Long Run
    5. 8.4 Efficiency in Perfectly Competitive Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  10. 9 Monopoly
    1. Introduction to a Monopoly
    2. 9.1 How Monopolies Form: Barriers to Entry
    3. 9.2 How a Profit-Maximizing Monopoly Chooses Output and Price
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  11. 10 Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    1. Introduction to Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    2. 10.1 Monopolistic Competition
    3. 10.2 Oligopoly
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  12. 11 Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    1. Introduction to Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    2. 11.1 Corporate Mergers
    3. 11.2 Regulating Anticompetitive Behavior
    4. 11.3 Regulating Natural Monopolies
    5. 11.4 The Great Deregulation Experiment
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  13. 12 Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    1. Introduction to Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    2. 12.1 The Economics of Pollution
    3. 12.2 Command-and-Control Regulation
    4. 12.3 Market-Oriented Environmental Tools
    5. 12.4 The Benefits and Costs of U.S. Environmental Laws
    6. 12.5 International Environmental Issues
    7. 12.6 The Tradeoff between Economic Output and Environmental Protection
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  14. 13 Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    1. Introduction to Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    2. 13.1 Why the Private Sector Under Invests in Innovation
    3. 13.2 How Governments Can Encourage Innovation
    4. 13.3 Public Goods
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  15. 14 Poverty and Economic Inequality
    1. Introduction to Poverty and Economic Inequality
    2. 14.1 Drawing the Poverty Line
    3. 14.2 The Poverty Trap
    4. 14.3 The Safety Net
    5. 14.4 Income Inequality: Measurement and Causes
    6. 14.5 Government Policies to Reduce Income Inequality
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  16. 15 Issues in Labor Markets: Unions, Discrimination, Immigration
    1. Introduction to Issues in Labor Markets: Unions, Discrimination, Immigration
    2. 15.1 Unions
    3. 15.2 Employment Discrimination
    4. 15.3 Immigration
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  17. 16 Information, Risk, and Insurance
    1. Introduction to Information, Risk, and Insurance
    2. 16.1 The Problem of Imperfect Information and Asymmetric Information
    3. 16.2 Insurance and Imperfect Information
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  18. 17 Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Financial Markets
    2. 17.1 How Businesses Raise Financial Capital
    3. 17.2 How Households Supply Financial Capital
    4. 17.3 How to Accumulate Personal Wealth
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  19. 18 Public Economy
    1. Introduction to Public Economy
    2. 18.1 Voter Participation and Costs of Elections
    3. 18.2 Special Interest Politics
    4. 18.3 Flaws in the Democratic System of Government
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  20. 19 International Trade
    1. Introduction to International Trade
    2. 19.1 Absolute and Comparative Advantage
    3. 19.2 What Happens When a Country Has an Absolute Advantage in All Goods
    4. 19.3 Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies
    5. 19.4 The Benefits of Reducing Barriers to International Trade
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  21. 20 Globalization and Protectionism
    1. Introduction to Globalization and Protectionism
    2. 20.1 Protectionism: An Indirect Subsidy from Consumers to Producers
    3. 20.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
    4. 20.3 Arguments in Support of Restricting Imports
    5. 20.4 How Trade Policy Is Enacted: Globally, Regionally, and Nationally
    6. 20.5 The Tradeoffs of Trade Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  22. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  23. B | Indifference Curves
  24. C | Present Discounted Value
  25. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
  26. References
  27. Index

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Analyze historical patterns of immigration
  • Explain economic effects of immigration
  • Evaluate notable proposals for immigration reform

Most Americans would be outraged if a law prevented them from moving to another city or another state. However, when the conversation turns to crossing national borders and are about other people arriving in the United States, laws preventing such movement often seem more reasonable. Some of the tensions over immigration stem from worries over how it might affect a country’s culture, including differences in language, and patterns of family, authority, or gender relationships. Economics does not have much to say about such cultural issues. Some of the worries about immigration do, however, have to do with its effects on wages and income levels, and how it affects government taxes and spending. On those topics, economists have insights and research to offer.

Historical Patterns of Immigration

Supporters and opponents of immigration look at the same data and see different patterns. Those who express concern about immigration levels to the United States point to graphics like Figure 15.7 which shows total inflows of immigrants decade by decade through the twentieth century. Clearly, the level of immigration has been high and rising in recent years, reaching and exceeding the towering levels of the early twentieth century. However, those who are less worried about immigration point out that the high immigration levels of the early twentieth century happened when total population was much lower. Since the U.S. population roughly tripled during the twentieth century, the seemingly high levels in immigration in the 1990s and 2000s look relatively smaller when they are divided by the population.

The graph shows that number of immigrants between 1900 and 1909 was (in thousands) 8,202. In between 1910 and 1919 the number was 6,347. Between 1920 and 1929, the number was 4,296. Between 1930 and 1939, the number was 699. Between 1940 and 1949, the number was 857. Between 1950 and 1959, the number was 2,499. Between 1960 and 1969, the number was 3,213. Between 1970 and 1979, the number was 4,248. Between 1980 and 1989, the number was 6,248. Between 1990 and 1999, the number was 9,775. Between 2000 and 2008, the number was 10,126.
Figure 15.7 Immigration Since 1900 The number of immigrants in each decade declined between 1900 and the 1940s, but has risen sharply in recent decades. (Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011, Table 1)

Where have the immigrants come from? Immigrants from Europe were more than 90% of the total in the first decade of the twentieth century, but less than 20% of the total by the end of the century. By the 2000s, about half of U.S. immigration came from the rest of the Americas, especially Mexico, and about a quarter came from various countries in Asia.

Economic Effects of Immigration

A surge of immigration can affect the economy in a number of different ways. In this section, we will consider how immigrants might benefit the rest of the economy, how they might affect wage levels, and how they might affect government spending at the federal and local level.

To understand the economic consequences of immigration, consider the following scenario. Imagine that the immigrants entering the United States matched the existing U.S. population in age range, education, skill levels, family size, occupations, and so on. How would immigration of this type affect the rest of the U.S. economy? Immigrants themselves would be much better off, because their standard of living would be higher in the United States. Immigrants would contribute to both increased production and increased consumption. Given enough time for adjustment, the range of jobs performed, income earned, taxes paid, and public services needed would not be much affected by this kind of immigration. It would be as if the population simply increased a little.

Now, consider the reality of recent immigration to the United States. Immigrants are not identical to the rest of the U.S. population. About one-third of immigrants over the age of 25 lack a high school diploma. As a result, many of the recent immigrants end up in jobs like restaurant and hotel work, lawn care, and janitorial work. This kind of immigration represents a shift to the right in the supply of unskilled labor for a number of jobs, which will lead to lower wages for these jobs. The middle- and upper-income households that purchase the services of these unskilled workers will benefit from these lower wages. However, low-skilled U.S. workers who must compete with low-skilled immigrants for jobs will tend to suffer from immigration.

The difficult policy questions about immigration are not so much about the overall gains to the rest of the economy, which seem to be real but small in the context of the U.S. economy, as they are about the disruptive effects of immigration in specific labor markets. One disruptive effect, as just noted, is that immigration weighted toward low-skill workers tends to reduce wages for domestic low-skill workers. A study by Michael S. Clune found that for each 10% rise in the number of employed immigrants with no more than a high school diploma in the labor market, high school students reduced their annual number of hours worked by 3%. The effects on wages of low-skill workers are not large—perhaps in the range of decline of about 1%. These effects are likely kept low, in part, because of the legal floor of federal and state minimum wage laws. In addition, immigrants are also thought to contribute to increased demand for local goods and services which can stimulate the local low skilled labor market. It is also possible that employers, in face of abundant low-skill workers may choose production processes which are more labor intensive than otherwise would have been. These various factors would explain the small negative wage effect observed among the native low-skill workers as a result of immigration.

Another potential disruptive effect is the impact on the budgets of state and local government. Many of the costs imposed by immigrants are costs that arise in state-run programs, like the cost of public schooling and of welfare benefits. However, many of the taxes that immigrants pay are federal taxes like income taxes and Social Security taxes. Many immigrants do not own property (such as homes and cars), so they do not pay property taxes, which are one of the main sources of state and local tax revenue. Though they do pay sales taxes, which are state and local, and the landlords of property they rent pay property taxes. According to the nonprofit Rand Corporation, the effects of immigration on taxes are generally positive at the federal level, but they are negative at the state and local levels in places where there are many low-skilled immigrants.

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Proposals for Immigration Reform

The Congressional Jordan Commission of the 1990s proposed reducing overall levels of immigration and refocusing U.S. immigration policy to give priority to immigrants with a higher level of skills. In the labor market, focusing on high-skilled immigrants would help prevent any negative effects on the wages of low-skilled workers. For government budgets, higher-skilled workers find jobs more quickly, earn higher wages, and pay more in taxes. Several other immigration-friendly countries, notably Canada and Australia, have immigration systems where those with high levels of education or job skills have a much better chance of obtaining permission to immigrate. For the United States, high tech companies regularly ask for a more lenient immigration policy to admit a greater quantity of highly skilled workers. In addition, a current immigration issue deals with the so-called “DREAM Act” legislation not yet passed by Congress, which would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16. However, some state legislatures, such as California, have passed their own Dream Acts.

If the United States decided to reduce immigration substantially, the economic losses would likely be small relative to the overall economy. If the United States decided to increase immigration substantially, the U.S. economy certainly is large enough to afford some additional assistance to low-wage workers or to local governments that might be adversely affected by immigration. Whether immigration levels are increased, decreased, or left the same, the quality of the debate over immigration policy would be improved by an explicit recognition of who receives economic benefits from immigration and who bears its costs.

Bring It Home

Collective Bargaining in Wisconsin

Should we end collective bargaining rights for government employees? In an effort to reduce the budget deficit, a contentious Wisconsin law prohibited most public employees from collectively bargaining on anything except wages. Legislators in Wisconsin argued that public safety is so important that public safety workers should be exempted from this. They could not risk firefighters and police going on strike. All firms and employees know that pensions and benefits are expensive; and there was a $3.6 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin that Governor Walker and legislators wanted to decrease. A lingering question is: should the unions have been more willing to shoulder a greater burden of the cost of those benefits? That question suggests that it is the cost, not necessarily the role of the union itself, which is the problem. After all, unions were founded to reduce the disadvantage that single employees face when bargaining with employers. Because so many government employees are union members, collective bargaining is even more important for them.

Ultimately, the benefit of unions is in the impact they have on economic productivity and output. The more productive the union workers become as a result of collective bargaining, the better off the economy will be.

The long-term repercussions of the Wisconsin law have yet to be realized. As a result of this bill, wage increases higher than the rate of inflation for Wisconsin public sector employees must be voted upon. Imagine if you are working for the Wisconsin government, and are able to find a higher-paying job in the private sector. What will you do? If you decide to leave because your options are better elsewhere, then the government must replace you. How will the government find workers to replace you? For some sectors of the government, reduced numbers of workers may mean greater efficiency. For other sectors, though, reduced numbers of government workers may mean reduced services.

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