Immigrants Boost American Jobs

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On Saturday, the economist Tyler Cowen published a New York Times piece interrogating the common view that immigrants reduce the number of jobs available to native-born Americans. "It turns out that the continuing arrival of immigrants to American shores is encouraging business activity here, thereby producing more jobs, according to a new study," writes Cowen. "The study notes that when companies move production offshore, they pull away not only low-wage jobs but also many related jobs, which can include high-skilled managers, tech repairmen and others. But hiring immigrants even for low-wage jobs helps keep many kinds of jobs in the United States."

And speaking of offshoring, Cowen goes on to note that the relationship between globalization and domestic job loss is more nuanced than many people believe. "For all the talk of the dangers of offshoring, there is a related trend that we might call in-shoring," he writes. "Dell or Apple computers may be assembled overseas, for example, but those products aid many American businesses at home and allow them to expand here ... It's not all about one group of people taking jobs from another. Job creation and destruction are so intertwined that, over all, the authors find no statistically verifiable connection between offshoring and net creation of American jobs."

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Cowen's most provocative point comes near the end, when he writes:

We are quicker to vilify groups of different "others" than we are to blame impersonal forces. Consider the fears that foreign competition, offshoring and immigration have destroyed large numbers of American jobs. In reality, more workers have probably been displaced by machines--as happens every time computer software eliminates a task formerly performed by a clerical worker. Yet we know that machines and computers do the economy far more good than harm and that they create more jobs than they destroy. Nonetheless, we find it hard to transfer this attitude to our dealings with immigrants, no matter how logically similar "cost-saving machines" and "cost-saving foreign labor" may be in their economic effects.

  • Right On, cheers Pejman Yousefzadeh at The New Ledger. "Kudos to Professor Cowen for making an effort to introduce some facts into this debate, but more such efforts are needed," Yousefzadeh writes. "There need to be more academics who are willing to speak out against the propagation of pernicious myths concerning immigration and offshoring, and it would be kind of nice if politicians stopped appealing to latent xenophobia by lying about these issues."

  • An Important Point, agrees Matt Yglesias at Think Progress. "For the competition effect to dominate an immigrant's impact on your life, then his or her skill-set needs to be very similar to yours," Yglesias points out. "If you're a Spanish-speaking construction worker with very poor English, then the entry of an additional Spanish-speaking construction worker with very poor English is probably bad for you. And, again, when a new Ethiopian cook comes to DC that’s mostly competition for existing Ethiopian cooks." Yglesias goes on to note that "the people who primarily suffer from competition with immigrants are other immigrants and in the real world this isn't where the center of gravity of anti-immigration politics is. So while I do think it's important to keep pressing these economic arguments, I also think it's important to keep in mind that they really aren't the core of the concerns people have about immigration."

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