The Bigger Picture
Published on May 27th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
To conclude my discussion about why citizens in America and other countries need more legal or even illegal immigrants, I will discuss the four most common American myths about immigration and to what extent these myths also apply to other developed countries.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “myth” in several different contexts, so the definition of within the context of this discussion is “Common American popular beliefs or stories about ‘immigrants’ that are either half truths or fictions.” The dictionary’s reference to ‘half truths’ is appropriate because some myths are not ‘fictions.’ There is actually an element of truth in them.
The most common myth about immigration in America and Europe is that immigrants take jobs away from American and other countries’ native citizens. This would be a half ‘truth’ because while there is an element of truth to it, the actual numbers of jobs that immigrants take that could be filled by American citizens or native citizens in other developed countries is quite small. Furthermore, virtually all economists also estimate that for every job an immigrant takes, a new one is created.
This is because immigrants generally take either highly skilled jobs like computer engineering or medical staff where there is a shortage of native workers, or very low skill jobs such as cleaning staff which native workers refuse to apply for. So for the most part, immigrants take jobs that complement rather than compete with the types of jobs held by native workers. In this way, immigrants add to the number of workers paying taxes that in turn fund the pension payments to native pensioners.
Furthermore, immigrants who have either highly skilled jobs or low pay, low skill jobs are usually the last to be hired and the first workers to be fired when business turns bad like it did in the Great Recession of 2009. This allows business owners to more easily expand and contract their business based on the health of the economy thus protecting the jobs of more senior native citizen workers. Unemployment statistics show that immigrants suffer much higher rates of unemployment during economic downturns than native workers experience.
The second most common myth is that immigrant workers push down the wages paid by employers to native citizen workers. This is another half truth that ignores the overall positive impact of immigrants on native citizen wages. While it is true that American citizens who only have a second level education have experienced a decline in pay for the low skills jobs they are qualified for due to competition from immigrant workers, the actual decline is only between 1 and 2%.
Furthermore this decline really only applies to wages paid for hard, back breaking work, like jobs in meat packing plants, collecting garbage or replacing roofs under a hot sun, that most native citizens decline to do. Native citizens who only have a second level diploma, but are employed in trades requiring more skills and training, such as plumbers, electricians or mechanics, have seen no effect on their incomes from immigrant competition. Third level university graduates have also seen no reduction in wages due to immigrant competition for more highly skilled jobs.
But looking at the bigger picture, economists’ estimate that for each job an immigrant takes, at least one additional job is created. This is due to the fact that immigrants stimulate overall economic growth because not only do they buy more products as consumers, but also because many of them create new jobs acting either as investors in native citizen businesses or as entrepreneurs creating new businesses and jobs. This is why economists claim that for the majority of American workers, their current pay is actually slightly higher than it would be without immigration.
The third myth isn’t just a half truth however; it is a total fiction. This myth claims that immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, take advantage of America and other developed nations’ social welfare systems that are meant to provide child support, food, health care and education for native citizens. In the case of illegal immigrants the myth is they don’t pay taxes, so native citizens are footing the costs of providing these services to illegal immigrants and their families.
While less than 5% of illegal immigrants in America do collect food stamp benefits to feed their families and educate their children in America’s public schools, they also pay the same taxes that native citizens pay to support these services. They pay sales taxes (or VAT) on the goods or services they purchase and they pay rent, which landlords in turn use to pay their own property taxes.
In the United States most illegal immigrants also have federal, state and local income taxes as well as Social Security and Medicare payments deducted from their wages with no hope of ever getting an income tax refund or claiming welfare benefits, because they have to provide fake social security numbers to their employers since they will not be hired without them. The US federal government alone collects over $10 billion a year in taxes it has no valid social security number to credit them to.
The fourth myth is also a fiction. It claims that America is over-run with illegal immigrants and because they don’t integrate with the broader population, they are responsible for increases in property and violent crimes.
However, in 1890 immigrants made up 15% of America’s population versus only 13% today. Furthermore, back then natives were also claiming that Irish and Italian immigrants did not integrate into society and were responsible for increases in crime, just as they claim Mexican immigrants are today.
The truth about these myths is that native citizens and politicians that pander to them use them to blame immigrants for their problems, instead of being honest about the real problem. The essential truth is these native citizens never took the time or made an effort to upgrade their skills in order to remain employable in a constantly changing and more technologically advanced world.