Immigration Drags Down Wages of Workers at Low End of Pay Scale

By Maggie Gallagher Copyright Maggie Gallagher | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 22, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Immigration Drags Down Wages of Workers at Low End of Pay Scale


Maggie Gallagher Copyright Maggie Gallagher, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


If, by pushing one magic button, the federal government could - without new regulations - raise the wages of America's less-skilled workers by as much as one-third, at no cost to the taxpayers - should we do it?

Sounds like a no-brainer. But such a magic button may exist, according to economist George J. Borjas. It's called "immigration policy."

"Immigration may account for perhaps a third of the recent decline in the relative wages of less-educated native workers," he writes in a provocative cover story in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In an afterword to the new paperback edition of "Alien Nation," Peter Brimelow notes that the economic "part of the immigration debate has not even begun." Perhaps Borjas' article will jump-start the conversation. Something about the immigration debate confounds the normal political boundaries. Democrats' most reliable constituents are the poor, while Republicans have gained the firm support of the upper middle class; even lackluster candidate Bob Dole got more than half the votes of those households earning more than $75,000 a year. (The middle middle class are the swing voters.) But so far, for the Democrats, race has trumped class in immigration policy. Multicultural diversity (or perhaps more future Democratic voters?) is the highest good, even if it hurts the minorities and poor already here. And Borjas makes a persuasive case that it does. "Current immigration redistributes wealth from unskilled workers, whose wages are lowered by immigrants, to skilled workers and owners of companies that buy immigrants' services," he concludes. Although Borjas doesn't mention it, since immigrants tend to be male, immigration has probably played an important role in the puzzling, unprecedented decline in male wages over the last three decades, which has in turn contributed to the ongoing collapse of the blue-collar family. While Democrats circle the wagons against nativism, Republicans split between those who fear cultural suicide and those who view free immigration as a boost to the American economy and a confirmation of the vision of America as an opportunity of society.

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