By Derek Monson

Some have argued that modern-day immigrants – referring to Mexican immigrants who are “low skilled” – are harmful to working families because they take away jobs from working-class families. Recent research suggests the opposite is in fact the case, at least as far as keeping a job is concerned.

A study done by two economists and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported that the high amount of geographic mobility of Mexican-born immigrants reduced the likelihood that a low-skilled American loses his or her job in a bad economy by about 40 percent. Why would this be the case?

The study found that Mexican-born immigrants are much more likely to find out about differences in pay between geographic areas in America and move to higher-paying areas in response. This makes a great deal of sense if immigrants without much education or training in “high-skill” jobs are coming to America primarily to work, which many are. Further, in the context of undocumented immigrants, it makes sense because they are ineligible for unemployment insurance, meaning that remaining in an area with a bad job market caused by a local recession is simply not financially feasible for many immigrants.

So what happens when an economic downturn hits in a given area? Typically, employers would be forced to lay people off to compensate for decreased economic activity. But what if, in response to a local recession, a significant number of employees simply moved on to better pastures, like many immigrants do? It means that people who remain behind are less likely to lose their jobs, because the employees who have left allow employers to reduce their costs in response to an economic downturn with fewer layoffs.

In short, because immigrants – especially undocumented immigrants – are so sensitive to economic conditions and are willing to move when those conditions worsen in any given area, native employees are less likely to be fired when a recession hits. This means a greater amount of financial security and protection for both working Americans (who are less likely to be fired) as well as immigrants (who end up going where jobs are available).

Of course, this point is not an argument in favor of the current immigration system, which is clearly broken and needs to be fixed via policy reforms. It simply means that when those reforms do finally get put in place, working families will not see their livelihoods destroyed en masse by “low-skilled” immigrants who come into the country and “steal” their jobs. Rather, to the extent that low-skilled immigrants come into the country, they will provide greater job security to working Americans during economic downturns by their willingness to pursue greater job security themselves by moving out of bad job markets into good job markets.

Such is the prosperity-producing power of the free market.


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