From the Congressional Budget Office: A Report on the Effects of Migration on Wages

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Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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  1. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    “The effects of immigration on wages depend on the characteristics of the immigrants. To the
    extent that newly arrived workers have abilities similar to those of workers already in the country,
    immigration would have a negative effect on wages. To the extent that newly arrived workers
    have abilities that complement those of workers already in the country, immigration would
    foster productivity increases, having a positive effect on wages. But it is difficult to disentangle
    the influence of immigration on wages from the influence of other forces, such as changes in
    technology and the global economy.
    A change in the legal immigration status of people who are already in the United States would affect
    their wages and productivity. People with legal immigration status are usually authorized to work;
    so are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). People without legal immigration
    status are usually not authorized to work (although many work regardless). And if people were to
    acquire legal status, they would be better positioned to ask for more compensation and become
    likelier to be employed in jobs that best matched their skills, increasing their wages and productivity.”Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      I assume you’re quoting from the report (which I haven’t read), and here are my comments on it:

      1. The authors are almost definitely right to point out that it’s hard to disentangle immigration’s influence on wages from other forces. But I often see people focus so much on the “other forces” so as to deny that there’s any influence. (Of course, I’m saying “often” and am not offering any examples. It’s quite possible that very few people actually say what I’m claiming they do.)

      2. The second paragraph is almost definitely correct, too. I will point out, though, that that point cuts against the claim that “immigrants do jobs that native-born Americans simply don’t want to do.” Here’s how. That claim relies in part on the notion that immigrants are so desperate and that this desperation is fueled in part by their undocumented status, they’ll take almost any legal job at substandard wages. (As with my first point, I’m maybe making a caricature of the claim I’m critiquing. More thoughtful people don’t say it’s “simply” the case that immigrants do jobs native-born Americans won’t.)

      I raise these observations not to argue for restricting immigration. I’m not sure where I stand on immigration policy. But I raise these observations to suggest that arguments against restriction need to do a better job at incorporating some of the nuances. I’m using the part of the report you quoted as foil to raise these points.

      ETA: to clarify, when I talk about “incorporating nuances,” I’m referring to a style of ostensibly pro-immigration argument that seems to assume the right answer is fairly simple and that anyone who raises any objections is just a xenophobe. I object to that characterization of pro-restriction arguments, even if 1) few people subscribe to that characterization so baldly and 2) it’s often, maybe usually, difficult to detach xenophobia and bigotry from pro-restriction arguments.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        (which I haven’t read)

        For what it’s worth, the overview is only 4 pages and it has enough graphs to get me to say that it has only about 3 pages’ worth of text (maybe a little less).

        It’s not some huge document dump.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Yeah, but that requires clicking on a link and spending a whole four minutes reading. I have Netflix shows to watch.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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            says:

            Fair enough. I just wouldn’t want you thinking “I don’t have 5 hours to read this crap!” when, really, it’d be closer to 20 minutes.

            If you don’t have 20 minutes to read this crap (and who does?), then I’m totally down with that.Report

            • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              To be fair, I actually assumed it was a 5 hour read and not a 20 minute read. Now that you mention it’s more a 20 minute read, I might take a look at it.Report

            • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Now that I’ve (finally) read it, this point is interesting:

              “The Congressional Budget Office has not estimated the amount of federal taxes paid by people who are in the country illegally.”

              I don’t know how one would go about making a credible estimate, but I suspect that people in the US illegally probably pay a good share of federal taxes, especially if they work under a false ssn.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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                says:

                Well, that would depend on the tax rate for the job they’re working under that false SSN. If they’re working something minimum wage-adjacent, I imagine that they aren’t paying *THAT* much, all things told. (I imagine that people might point out that, hey, they’re paying into Social Security and they’re never going to get a check from it but that sort of applies to Gen-X as a whole as well so I’m not sure how biting of a criticism that is.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        I wasn’t offering this quote as anything definitive… more than anything I wanted to draw attention to Jay’s cherrypicking of quotes.

        Of course it’s all complicated. But the OP doesn’t exactly paint it as such. I was attempting to inject some of that nuance… or at least draw attention to the nuance in the report for folks like yourself who didn’t read it.

        As tends to be typical of such reports, it wasn’t a slam dunk in any one direction and attempting to use it as such is dishonest.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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          says:

          That’s fair, as regards to my comment. And your quoting the report prompted me to look more carefully at it (and eventually read the summary Jaybird linked to).Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
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          says:

          I wasn’t trying to argue that it was a slam dunk. However, in the past, we’ve argued multiple times about unskilled immigration and whether it applies pressure on the wages for the unskilled. We’ve argued about it several times now. (The time we argued about it most recently, someone pointed out that the government report I was linking to was from 2005 and that was really, really stale. So when I saw that the government has released a new report, I thought “oh, good… now when we argue whether there is any evidence that low-skilled immigration has a negative effect on low-skilled wages, I can point to the new government report”.)Report

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    This is where someone like me asserts that the government should take some sort of action which will force employers to pay higher wages.

    But of course, the discerning reader will note that the “action” could take many forms, such as restricting immigration or enforcing minimum wage laws.Report

  3. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    I continue to fail to understand why the US immigration policy is not: “Come here, bring your $ and / or education and start a company and get rich.” There’s no need to import folks who drive down the labor wages.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon
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      says:

      Import? Interesting.

      So we should restrict immigration based on wealth and/or education?Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        On education? Absolutely 100% it’s crazy that we don’t. We want the best and the brightest the world has to offer, no need to import more unskilled labor.Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to InMD
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          says:

          (on a side note InMD, you had asked once about the MFA crisis I mentioned at one time, here is a good and very thorough explanation:
          https://quillette.com/2020/01/07/the-national-book-foundation-defines-diversity-down/Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Aaron David
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            says:

            Interesting. I think a lot of elite professions are becoming that way. More racially diverse and open to women than ever before but also increasingly insular and homogeneous in perspective.

            There are some similarities in law, which IMO is part of why formerly influential bodies like the ABA are bleeding members and money.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to InMD
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              says:

              In my opinion, the root cause of both the MFA problem and the ABA issue is a similar action at the university level. Academia has always had some issues in this regard, but as the forefront of the intersectionality movement, it is ground zero.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to Aaron David
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                says:

                It certainly doesn’t help and it’s why I let my ABA membership lapse and will never donate a dime to my law alma mater. It’s a bunch of people spouting gibberish with an inane political agenda and all I can think is ‘you know what would be good…? Helping people get jobs and improve their skillsets so they can find work.’

                It’s really a shame since my law school was well known as a very practical, no nonsense institution. Now? I don’t even know what to think of it.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to InMD
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                says:

                You know, once I start to think about it, there are a lot more fields were the professional society has gone off the rails in this way. Look at unions, how they are no longer able to demand membership. The numbers drop in a major way, putting a real hurt on financing. It is almost as if many of these groups were taking the rank and file for granted.

                Almost.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Aaron David
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            says:

            I have this theory (which is so obvious I’m sure I’m not the first) that bourgeois liberal people don’t have as much political power as they used to or would like, so they increasingly focus their energies on monopolizing the production of cultural legitimacy. Which is why we get this sort of MFA cartel system in the arts. And plenty of novels about bourgeois MFA graduates trying to make it in New York publishing that nobody reads, but which get stellar reviews.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Rufus F.
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              says:

              It happened with poetry back in the ’70s-’80s. People were no longer reading it in a mass sense, it being no longer popular having been replaced by the novel. And all of a sudden, all the poetry that was published was all by professors who were award winners. There was no way to break into that circle even if you wanted too. I am hearing that SF and romance are heading that way, YA is already there.

              I have a friend who’s partner is an English instructor. Last time I ran into her she asked me what I was watching. Prestige TV is the new lit.

              I wanted to push back on the theory of yours, but the more I think about it, the more I feel it might be correct. As the movie says, the quickest way to go broke is an increasing share of a shrinking market.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Aaron David
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                says:

                I must not be following you. Quite recently, YA was dominated for a decade by a British welfare mom. The woman who just won three Best Novel Hugos in a row was only recently able to quit her day job as a psychologist and write full-time.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                I didn’t say it was there yet, just that it was trending that way. But, Kowal served as art director for Shimmer Magazine and in 2010 was named art director for Weird Tales.[8] She served as secretary of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for two years, was elected to the position of SFWA Vice President in 2010, and was elected SFWA President in 2019.[9] In 2008, her second year of eligibility, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer can you say insider? This is not a good sign.

                As far as YA goes, it is in many ways a new field. When I was a kid, you had Where the Red Fern Grows, things like that. Much of what would now be put in YA, think Anne McCafferty and the like, was sold as straight SF. And JK Rowling broke that barrier. She could have just as easily been sold by Daw as Scholastic, just change the marketing. But, with many of the recent controversies in the genre, authors self-canceling books and whatnot, I feel it is already there.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to InMD
          Ignored
          says:

          How do we measure education? Take a test? Are we accrediting universities? What if you’re bright as hell but grew up in a war zone where your school got bombed when you were 6? What’s your plan for restricting for education?Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            RE: How?
            Take a test. Any US accredited institution. Or maybe even the foreign equiv.

            What if you’re bright as hell but grew up in a war zone where your school got bombed when you were 6?

            Then you are unskilled labor.

            IMHO if you show up on our doorsteps then that shows a level of determination and so forth that is fine and you should be welcomed, but we shouldn’t be actively trying to steal you while you’re in your original country.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
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            says:

            Did you take the Canadian Eligibility Test? One of the things they test for is language mastery. Canada has two national languages: English and French. They test you on both of these and it behooves you to have mastery in at least one. They prefer functional literacy in the other, of course… but they *DO* test you for that.

            “What if you’re bright as hell but grew up in a war zone where your school got bombed when you were 6?”

            Pew Research has this:

            “No schooling” through “12th grade, no diploma” is considered less than secondary.

            Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Kazzy, have you ever done the Canadian Citizen Eligibilty Points Calculator?

        It’s like a “Which Spice Girl Are You?” test but about whether you could become a Canadian Citizen if you wanted.

        Watch out: It’s a hidden “How Privileged Are You?” test. So if you take it and you pass, don’t immediately come back and brag about how you passed. There are a lot of people who don’t. And if they don’t, they’re not eligible.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        We should restrict immigration to who we, as a country “choose” what ever that is. What I said above I would advocate. We have enough unskilled folk ATM. The US has alternatively opened it’s doors and closed them for various reasons in the past…. No reason we can’t do that now.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Damon
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      says:

      How many of us here at OT would be here, if such a standard were applied to our immigrant ancestors?

      I wouldn’t. My ancestors were exactly as skilled as those Mexican laborers picking lettuce.

      Except, in those days the government not only welcomed immigrants, it gave them free land that it had confiscated from its rightful owners.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Are there any other attitudes from the 1800’s that you wish America still had?Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Who cares? We don’t need 19th century solutions for a 21st century economy.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to InMD
          Ignored
          says:

          Why not?

          Why would the descendants of today’s lettuce picker not follow the same trajectory as the descendants of my great grandparents, i.e., become prosperous middle class Americans?Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels
            Ignored
            says:

            Because we have other economic and technological power houses to compete with today, not tomorrow. I’d rather take their talent now and pay living wages to the unskilled people we already have, not wait 2 or 3 generations for huddled masses to produce MIT grads and keep gutting the working class we have in the meantime.Report

          • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chip Daniels
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            says:

            I’m not necessarily opposed to “19th-century solutions,” but we need to remember that those “solutions” operated in, supplemented, and were supplemented by, a web of policies that you and I might not sign onto.

            The federal government and the courts generally at the state and federal levels, were hostile to unions. (I have qualms about unionization, but if you support a robust system of organizing rights, the legacy of 19th century policy is mixed at best. Not quite as hostile as some might say. There were, especially at state and more local levels, some policies we would recognize as pro-union or at least union- or organizing-friendly.)

            Racial exclusion against immigrants was a keystone of immigration policy, especially in the western US. And where there was policy-level sympathy for labor unions, that sympathy often coincided with exclusion.

            Contract labor systems operated (often, not always, but enough to raise concerns) in labor that you and I might call “unfree,” not “slave labor,” but not “free labor” in the sense you and I might mean it.

            The US, for much of the late 19th century (and before) had a protectionist trade policy. I’m ignorant about how that protectionism intersected with immigration policy, but I suspect there was some relationship.

            So again, we might as well look at the 19th century for examples of what to do, but we should also consider examples of what not to do. And we need to keep in mind the different contexts. You’re not necessarily saying anything different, and my comment could also be considered a response to (and partial disagreement with) InMD’s comment.Report

            • Avatar InMD in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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              says:

              Among many, many other things it relied on a combination of willingness to house people in death-trap conditions subsisting on borderline slave labor (including for children) and so much open, minimally settled land that we could literally hand it over to people. We don’t live in that world anymore and we never will again.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to InMD
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                says:

                A side note about “minimally settled land”;

                It wasn’t “unsettled”; The land was “sparsely populated” by those indigenous people who owned it.

                I use this term, because today there are vast areas of America, the “flyover” areas, that are losing population, in many cases leaving rural areas even more sparsely populated than in the 19th century.

                My suggestion, only partly facetious, is for the federal government to seize all this vacant land and hand it over to either the previous owners, or immigrants who are better able to put the land to good use.

                Again, I’m being facetious.

                But not by much.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                More like sparsely populated by indigenous people whose civilizations were essentially pre-metalurgy and which had been utterly hollowed out not only by war but primarily by exposure to Old World pathogens over 300 years. But yes, once some other people had been there, the colonists and eventual founders of our country and their descendants and other newcomers were not particularly kind to them (and nor were the natives in return for that matter) but such is history and really it has no bearing on this topic.

                I know you said you’re being facetious but thats really a silly idea. The bulk of arable land in the United States is controlled by big agribusiness and the rest of it out there with any value for resource extraction is now or will soon be similarly accounted for. There’s really no need for a bunch of homesteaders and even if there were it’s not at all clear that 21st century unskilled laborers coming from poverty in their own countries are capable of doing it in an ecologically sound manner or at all. The whole idea seems very backward looking and I really don’t get the purpose of it when merit based immigration is an option.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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              says:

              But an example of one policy doesn’t demand we adopt all the others, right?

              For example, if we dramatically increased the number of work visas from Mexico and established a controlled flow of seasonal workers allowing them to move back and forth without fear of getting trapped on one side or the other, what harmful effects would that produce?

              This would be a 21st century solution to the 21st century problem of our need for competitive wages in the agriculture and meatpacking industry.

              The argument here in this essay is that this drives down wages.
              But of course, the chief reason it drives down wages is the fear of undocumented people in asserting their right to even the minimum wage.

              Suppose those legalized seasonal workers were free to demand a higher, more livable minimum wage?

              The result is what i hinted at in my first comment.

              That from the standpoint of a farm employer or meatpacking employer, all of the comments on this board point to the same conclusion.

              Namely, that we all here are arguing for various methods of forcing that employer to pay higher wages.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I don’t know if I agree that your example would be good policy. I have my doubts that guest worker programs really function all that well. [ETA: a guest worker program doesn’t, to my mind, really imply that the regime is “welcoming” immigrants in the way you seem to imply in the comment that started this sub-thread. It’s less of a 19th century solution than a 1950s solution a la bracero program.] However, your example seems reasonable and I don’t wish to argue about that, specifically.

                I do wish to address the question with which you lead off, though: “But an example of one policy doesn’t demand we adopt all the others, right?”

                Right. But I add this caveat: If we look to the past for ideas of what to do now, it’s wise to consider how, in what context, and in what ways that policy was implemented. At the very least, we need to adapt that policy to our own circumstances.

                You’re not necessarily saying anything otherwise, but I read the exchange between you and InMD as your saying “why not [use 19th century solutions for 21st century problems]?” Given your comment, with your example, I realize you’re not saying that.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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                says:

                My bad. I said the bracero program was 150s, but it was started in 1942, though according to Wikipedia it was officially terminated in the 1960s.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        These discussions often bring up some variant of the “but we’re a nation of immigrants” argument. I don’t think it’s as useful as people who bring up that argument think it is, especially when it comes to looking at the specifics of who to let in and on what terms.

        If you go back far enough, almost everybody everywhere is where they are because their ancestors immigrated there at some time in the distant or recent past. That fact should give us all food for thought, especially when the immigration was in not too distant memory.

        At the same time, the fact that immigration happened earlier doesn’t answer the question of what to do now as definitively as your comment implies, assuming I’m reading you correctly. (And maybe I’m not reading you correctly: you’re not making the simplistic “we’re a nation of immigrant” arguments: you’re acknowledging the problematic aspects of the government’s role, such as taking Indians’ land. To that I’d also add its role, at times, in validating less-than-free contract labor schemes for immigrants and in excluding some immigrants (e.g., Chinese and other non-white immigrants).Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        How many of us here at OT would be here, if such a standard were applied to our immigrant ancestors?

        That. That exactly.

        Having said that, I’m also all in favor of brain drain. Staple a green card to every 4 year degree from every acredited college.Report

  4. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    I’ve probably made enough comments here already, but here’s another thought. Immigration policy is inherently complicated, contradictory, and unstable. There’s no solution that will work for all time. There’s also no such thing as absolute restriction or absolute open borders. There will always be ways for people to immigrate under the most restrictionist regime. There will always be state-created or state-facilitated impediments to immigration.

    That complicated nature of immigration policy ‘s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s potentially a good thing if we accept it and roll with it, if we tweak it at the margins. Above all, accepting how complicated it all is might help us, especially those of us who favor at least some restriction, to see and treat immigrants as the human beings they are, as moral agents with their own hopes, dreams, and faults.Report

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