May 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Overall, Immigration Benefits Economy But A Disproportionate Burden Falls On A Few States, Uneducated U.S. Workers

From Wire Reports

Some Americans are paying more taxes because of immigration, but overall the U.S. economy benefits from it by as much as $10 billion a year, the National Research Council said Saturday.

The report, sure to add ammunition to the ongoing political wars on treatment of immigrants, was commissioned to give a scientific foundation to the politically charged issue.

According to the researchers, the chief winners from immigration are owners and customers of restaurants, the textile industry and agriculture, and hirers of domestic help. Because immigrants concentrate in those areas, the researchers found, prices are kept lower and workers are more available than they would be otherwise.

The chief losers: U.S.-born citizens without a high school education. Competition from immigrants, the study found, has held down their wages by at least 5 percent over the past 15 years, and it has set a number of these workers on the road, moving to places where fewer immigrants live.

Immigrants, the panel said, do not significantly reduce job opportunities and wages for most Americans.

The one group that appears to “suffer substantially” from new waves of immigrants, the study concluded, are earlier groups of immigrants.

“If you take the long perspective, the benefits are actually going to turn positive,” said James Smith, senior economist at the RAND corporation, and head of the panel. He conceded that the finding surprised him, and he stressed that the long-term perspective was one that not many politicians examined.

“The vast majority of Americans are enjoying a healthier economy as the result of the increased supply of labor and the lower prices that result from immigration,” Smith said.

The Research Council panel examined the cost of immigration to taxpayers in two states were immigrants are concentrated: California and New Jersey.

In California, the study said, each native household pays about $1,200 a year in state and local taxes to cover services used by immigrants. But in New Jersey, where the immigrant population is more established, the cost is about $230 a year.

The study said residents in the vast majority of the country enjoy a net tax gain, as immigrants are concentrated in just six states but their taxes mostly go to the federal government. The researchers did not examine the four other states where immigrants concentrate: New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois.

The study found that the wage gap between new immigrants and native workers had grown sharply in recent years, with male immigrants paid 32 percent less than native workers in 1990, versus 17 percent less in 1970. New female immigrants now make 22 percent less than native-born women, the study said, compared to 12 percent in 1970.

The study also considered the social effect of immigration. Assuming current levels of immigration, the panel projected that the nation’s population will approach 400 million by 2050, an increase of almost 50 percent over 1995. Given low native-born fertility rates, new immigrants and their descendants will account for a startling two-thirds of the U.S. growth during the next half century.

As a consequence, the proportion of people of Asian and Latin American ancestry will rise dramatically. Latinos will far outpace blacks as the major minority group.

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