Immigration in America's Future: Social Science Findings and the Policy Debate

By David M. Heer | Go to book overview

8
The Impact of Immigration

In this chapter we examine social science findings on the effect of immigration on a set of values most Americans consider important. These values (previously described in Chapter 2) include the standard of living in the United States, issues of equity, issues concerning the preservation or modification of existing American culture, ethnic and class conflict within the United States, and the power of the United States in international affairs. We begin with the American standard of living.


Standard of Living

In Chapter 2 we emphasized that immigration policies that will improve the standard of living of one group of native Americans may have negative impacts on the standard of living of other groups. In that chapter we also introduced some of the major points of economic theory with respect to the consequences of immigration for the American standard of living. We then distinguished three groups of native Americans (unskilled workers, skilled workers, and owners of land or capital) and brought up the concepts of substitutes and complements in the production process. According to economic theory, the introduction of an additional worker who is a substitute for an existing worker will tend to reduce the marginal productivity of the original worker; the introduction of an additional worker who is a complement to an existing worker will tend to raise the marginal productivity of the original worker. Land and capital are in general complements to either skilled or unskilled workers, and skilled workers are complements to unskilled workers. But unskilled workers are substitutes for other unskilled workers, skilled workers in one occupation are substitutes for additional skilled workers in the same occupation, and additional units of land and capital are often substitutes for existing units. Finally, in Chapter 2 we stressed that native workers who were substitutes for immigrant workers and hence subject to diminished marginal productivity could react in three different ways: (1) They might accept a lower wage, (2) they might quit their jobs and become unemployed, or (3) they might leave the local labor market and seek better jobs elsewhere. In contrast, native workers who were complements to immigrant workers and hence subject to a rise in marginal

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