The Corner

Immigration

‘The Winners and Losers of Immigration’

A new study from three researchers at Brigham Young University makes some interesting claims. Basically, a lot of immigration research looks to see if wages go down in places where immigrants show up, but with the data we have, it’s hard to tell what happens to people who leave the area entirely. These researchers were able to link census records across time to follow people from place to place — and they find, per the study’s abstract,

smaller economic impacts of immigration for native workers than previous work, including no positive impact on worker incomes. We present evidence of significant “losers” from increased immigration, namely workers who appear to be displaced by immigrant labor and move out of their local labor market, whereas the workers who remain see significant benefits. We also find that younger and lower skilled workers are “losers” from increased immigration, whereas older and higher-skilled workers are “winners.”

This excerpt got me pretty psyched to read the paper, but the nitty-gritty details are a little disappointing. They’re looking at the three censuses between 1910 and 1930, roughly a century ago. To link people across time, they need to rely on records from genealogy websites, and this works for only “40 percent of the target population.”

I wouldn’t conclude too much from this paper, but we should look at this phenomenon with better and more recent data. Such data aren’t publicly available for privacy reasons, but they could probably be given to specific trusted researchers, the way that Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez were allowed to analyze an entire generation’s tax returns.

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