The Frontal Cortex

Immigration and the Dismal Science

With all the debate in Congress over illegal immigration, this paper is bound to cause a serious brouhaha. I haven’t read the manuscript yet, but the numbers cited in the abstract are certainly thought-provoking. Economics is ultimately a study of trade-offs, and these economists clearly believe that the big losers when it comes to increased immigration are African-American men. If that’s true, should liberals rethink their support for a comprehensive immigration bill?

The employment rate of black men, and particularly of low-skill black men, fell precipitously from 1960 to 2000. At the same time, the incarceration rate of black men rose markedly. This paper examines the relation between immigration and these trends in black employment and incarceration. Using data drawn from the 1960-2000 U.S. Censuses, we find a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates. As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose. Our analysis suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 3.6 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 2.4 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point.


  1. #1 razib
    September 22, 2006

    borjas is a noted immigration skeptic, so i doubt it will matter to those who want large immigrant flows (speaking as an immigrant and immigration skeptic). the top 10% of americans benefit from a large class of low wage labor. even if it diminishes the quality of lot of the bottom 90%, that is irrelevant.

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