Giovanni Peri Does A Study (And Pedro Should Buy A House)

Nathaniel Cahners Hindman at The Huffington Post:

Champions of strict immigration reform, be warned: there may be an economic consequence to tightening America’s borders.

Immigration is actually good for employment, wages and productivity, according to a new study from the San Francisco Fed.

States that have had a large influx of immigrants tended to produce more, hire more and pay workers more than states that have few new foreign-born workers, the study shows. For every one percent increase in employment from immigration, the study finds, a state will see a .4 to .5 percent increase in income per worker.

In conducting the study, Giovanni Peri, an associate professor at University of California, Davis, compared output per worker and employment in states that have had large immigrant inflows with data from states that have few immigrant inflows. Peri found no evidence that immigrants “crowd-out” employment for American citizens.

Peri concludes that immigration boosted states’ output, income and employment because the economies “[absorbed] immigrants by expanding job opportunities rather than by displacing workers born in the United States.” Further, the results of the study support the theory that U.S.-born workers and immigrants tend to take different occupations, says Peri.

Felix Salmon:

Never mind the stimulus vs austerity debate: here’s something that both sides should be able to get behind. It’s a simple legislative fix which increases tax revenues without raising taxes; which increases the demand for housing; which increases the economy’s productive capacity; and which boosts wages for American workers. It’s about as Pareto-optimal as legislation gets. So let’s open the borders, and encourage much more immigration into the US!

The SF Fed’s Giovanni Peri has the latest research on the subject:

Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

The effects of immigration on US wages are large, positive, and significant:

Over the long run, a net inflow of immigrants equal to 1% of employment increases income per worker by 0.6% to 0.9%. This implies that total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007.

It’ll be interesting to see how much debate this paper receives. Anti-immigration forces are more likely to ignore it than attack it, I think, if they don’t like what it says. And George Borjas seems to have stopped blogging over a year ago, which is a shame, because he would be the perfect foil for Peri.

Kevin Drum:

What’s really striking about this is that the very mechanism that provides the productivity boost — the fact that immigrants don’t speak English well and therefore push native workers out of manual labor and into higher-paying jobs — is precisely the thing that most provokes the immigrant skeptics. They all want immigrants to assimilate faster and speak English better, but if they did then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.

The usual caveats apply here. This is only one study. (Well, two actually, but still.) And in order to generate useful results the authors have to control for a whole menagerie of variables that can muck things up. There’s always a chance that some important variable got missed or that another one got controlled for incorrectly. So don’t take this as the last word. It does, however, join a growing literature that suggests immigration has no negative effect on wages and might actually have a positive effect. Interesting stuff.

Matthew Yglesias:

Think of some classic “bad” jobs that we find a lot of immigrants doing—basically the tidying-up industries. Now imagine that tomorrow 75% of the maids, the janitors, the dishwashers, the gardeners, the people who make the beds at hotels, etc. are all teleported to Mexico. This is a class of low-income people that’s vanished, so it’s possible that their teleportation will make certain statistical sets look better. But what’s going to be the impact on the living standards of those of us Left Behind in the United States of America?

Well there are really only two things that can happen here. One is that to an extent things can just be allowed to be dirtier and the other is that to an extent people can spend less time doing things that aren’t cleaning and more time cleaning. Down the first pathway, overall living standards decline because of the increase in the overall level of filth. Down the second pathway, overall living standards decline because of the decrease in the production of other goods and services. It’s true that amidst this overall decline in living standards some specific individuals would probably benefit (the remaining 25% of cleaners, for example) which is why there’s room for empirical research like the SF Fed paper linked above, but it’s easy to see that on the whole immigration boosts living standards even before you consider the positive impact on the immigrants.

At issue is the fact that here in the developed world we’re not peasant farmers fighting to support ourselves on a fixed quantity of viable agricultural land. When new workers come onto the scene and do jobs, they create more surplus. To get the kind of zero-sum effect that people think occurs when you get rid of immigrants, what you would actually need to do is send retirees to the Death Panels and turn them into Soylent Green. But of course even there we note that the interests of elderly people matter, morally speaking, and it would be grossly wrong to simply write them off in the interests of efficiency.

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior:

Calculated Risk tells us the key to fixing the housing market:

The key to the housing market is to absorb the excess inventory. That means more households and fewer new housing units. Luckily housing starts are very low right now, but unfortunately there is very little job growth (and therefore little new household formation).

But job growth is not the only way to get new household formation, as I’ve argued again and again, we have immigration at our disposal. Of course, there are the usual complaints about jobs. But the weakness of this argument can be seen in a new paper Felix Salmon directs us to:

Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

It is well understood that the removing capital tariffs and protectionism would increase overall efficiency and incomes. Since immigration restrictions are labor market protectionism we shouldn’t be surprised to see that is has similar positive effects.

Unfortunately, journalists and pundits don’t seem to oppose labor protectionism nearly as much as they oppose capital protectionism. We would see an outcry among op-eds and pundits if we were seeing a worldwide rise in capital protectionism, because they recognize that beggar-thy-neighbor policies make everyone worse off. But no similar reaction has come from the rise in global labor protectionism

More Yglesias:

[...] Something that certainly shouldn’t be controversial is the fairly obvious point that if we allowed more immigrants to come to the United States this would bolster home price values in a clearer and more sustainable way than any kind of crazy patchwork of tax breaks. Right now we have more houses than households, if we had more immigrants we’d have more households. We’d work off the excess inventory more quickly, and be closer to the day when home construction returns as a viable economic sector.

Adam Ozimek offers up some quantitative research on the scale of the effect citing research from Albert Saiz (PDF) indicating that “[i]mmigration inflows equal to 1% of a city’s population were associated with increases in average or median housing rents and prices of about 1%.”

One way to especially take advantage of this effect and politically frame it as housing stabilization policy would be to create a special new class of visa specifically for people who purchase homes in the United States.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place

Reihan Salam:

Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as belonging to the “anti-immigration forces.” But I will say that the study’s findings are hardly surprising. We’ve known for a pretty long time that immigration tends to increase wage dispersion by raising effective incomes at the top and depressing them at the bottom. And Peri’s findings regarding the impact on average income doesn’t tell us much about the distribution of gains. Felix excerpts the following from Peri:

Over the long run, a net inflow of immigrants equal to 1% of employment increases income per worker by 0.6% to 0.9%. This implies that total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007. [Emphasis added.]

But how does immigration impact the median worker rather than the average worker? And how does it impact wages of workers at, for example, the 10th percentile?

In 2006, Peri co-authored a paper with Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano of the Universita’ di Bologna that added an important wrinkle [PDF]:

Using our general equilibrium approach we estimate that physical capital adjsust promptly and fully to immigration (already within one year) and that immigrants are imperfect substitutes for US-born workers within the same education and experience group (because they choose different occupations and have different skills). These two facts, overlooked by the previous literature, imply a positive and significant effect ofimmigration on the average wage of U.S.- born workers, already in the short run. They also imply a small negative effect of immigration on wages of uneducated US born workers and a positive wage effect on all other US-born workers. Hence only a very small fraction of the increase in College/High School Dropout wage gap during the 1990-2004 period can be attributed to immigration.

A central question is how we weight the impact of immigration on “uneducated” US born workers. I tend to think the U.S. can accommodate a relatively large immigrant influx — I’d like to see an influx only slightly smaller than what we have now when we combine authorized and unauthorized immigrants, but with authorized and skilled immigrants much closer to 100 percent of the total than is presently the case. But that’s because I’m less concerned about wage dispersion than my left-of-center counterparts.

I wonder if my interlocutors would accept that we should only pay attention to the average effect of, say, changes to tax policy and ignore the impact on the median household. I doubt it.

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