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The impact of immigration

Posted By Russ Roberts On April 3, 2006 @ 1:20 pm In Immigration,Less Than Meets the Eye | Comments Disabled

The New York Times had a full-page story [1] on immigration in the Week in Review section yesterday. It was a negative piece. A lot of data were presented (see the "Multimedia" link in the Times article) were presented, all negative. A caption under the photograph read:

JOBS LOST AND FOUND At California construction sites
like this one, well-paid work that used to go to native-born Americans
is going to lower-paid immigrants.

That description implies that immigrants take jobs away from native-born Americans. I don’t know of any serious study that shows that. The usual claim is that competition from immigrants lowers the wages of Americans. And sure enough, the Times article has a chart that shows that. Here it is:

Borjas_1 [2]
There’s nothing in the graphic that questions whether these numbers are accurate. They’re presented as facts ("Reduced Wages") with no disclaimers about the statistical techniques or assumptions that went into them. Borjas is quoted in the article but no skeptic is quoted about whether these estimates are reliable.  The numbers are about the impact of legal and illegal immigrants even though the article is about illegals, a smaller group. And there’s nothing about the impact on the immigrants themselves from coming to America relative to the country they’ve left behind.

But what’s really misleading and bizarre about the chart is that there’s no visual benchmark for these decreases. Your eye can see that 5.0 is almost twice 3.1. But is 5% a big decrease or a small one?  The way you’d show the size would be to have a bar chart of what average wages are for Asians, Whites, Blacks and Hispanics and then show the average wages that would allegedly exist if there were no immigration. If the data were presented in this way, you’d see how small or large the impact is.

Ironically, just below this chart in the Times article is another chart that does exactly what could have been done with the wages chart. This second chart shows how little the impact on food prices would be if didn’t allow immigration and we had to pick farm products with native-born labor. Farm wages would go up and so would prices. But the impact on food prices would be small, the Times graphic points out, only about two or three cents on the dollar:

Farmprices [3]

So the impact on wages of all immigration, legal and illegal, is about four cents on the dollar. The overall impact on food prices is about two to three cents on the dollar. There’s no differential impact illustrated for blacks or hispanics who are relatively poor. Just a summary "two or three cents" with a nice picture to let your eye see how little two or three percent is. But no corresponding measure for wages.

What a dishonest article. The Times should be ashamed.

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[1] a full-page story: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/weekinreview/02broder.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

[2] Image: http://cafehayek.com/images/various/borjas_1.jpg

[3] Image: http://cafehayek.com/images/various/farmprices.jpg

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