Obama White House official Doug Rand has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle headlined, “Want to Get Rich? Let In More Immigrants.” The headline slightly exaggerates the message of the article, which is that “[t]o make the average American richer, we should encourage immigration across the board.”
Of the evidence Rand cites for his contention, the most relevant is that a bill Congress considered in 2013 to expand immigration was estimated to raise GDP by $1.4 trillion over 20 years. (Rand does not identify the source of this estimate.) But if we’re looking at this from the standpoint of whether it makes individual Americans richer, then Rand is ignoring an obvious point, one made by the Congressional Budget Office in its report on that bill: “Because the population would expand considerably, per capita GNP would rise by much less than would total GNP. According to CBO’s central estimates, S. 744 would reduce per capita GNP by 0.7 percent in 2023 and raise it by 0.2 percent in 2033.”
What we’d really want to know, but neither Rand nor the CBO tells us, is the effect of expanded immigration on the economic welfare of the people who would be here in the absence of expansion: native-born Americans, people who came here as immigrants before the legislation, and people who would come here even if the legislation did not pass.
A National Academies of Science report that Rand cites, for a different purpose, gives us another relevant piece of information. It estimates that immigrants who are already here boost the income of the native population by 0.31 percent.
So it does not appear that immigration is going to make Americans significantly richer, on average.