By Jessica Holzer
Tucson, Arizona | Published:
WASHINGTON - There is no clear evidence that an influx of immigrant workers hurts the earnings of U.S.-born workers over the long term, the Congressional Budget Office director told a House committee this week.
"It might seem obvious that the arrival of immigrants would lower the wages of native workers," Douglas Holtz-Eakin said Wednesday, but "the ultimate impact is very difficult to quantify."
The economy adjusts to the new workers, the report found.
Businesses make capital investments as immigrants become available to work, while native workers may choose to pursue more education to compete better in the job market.
During the past decade, the number of foreign-born workers in the United States has ballooned to 21 million from 13 million, accounting for about half the growth in the labor force.
At 12 percent, the share of immigrants in the total population has hit levels not seen since the 1930s. Barring a shift in the trend, immigration will be the biggest contributor to population growth during the next half-century, according to the report.
Low-skilled immigrants from Mexico and Central America make up almost 40 percent of foreign-born workers. On average, workers from Latin America have about nine years of schooling - far less than workers coming from the rest of the world, who have an average of 14 years of schooling, slightly more than native-born workers.
Studies show that from 1980 to 2000, job competition from immigrants knocked from zero to 10 percent from the wages of U.S.-born workers who had dropped out of high school, according to the report. The budget office attributed the disparity to the difficulty economists have in estimating what the wages would have been without immigration.
The children of foreign-born workers are more educated than their parents. On average, native workers with a parent born in Mexico or Central America have completed nearly 13 years of schooling, while those with a parent born elsewhere have completed nearly 15 years of schooling.
"The children of immigrants look very different from their parents, because beneath their rising earnings is rising educational attainment," Holtz-Eakin said.
Aside from their ability to contribute skills to the labor force, immigrants help the economy in other ways, proponents of immigration said.
"Immigrants are consumers as well as workers," Harry Holzer, a Georgetown University economist, testified at the hearing.
Asked what he thought was missing from the debate in Congress on immigration, Holtz-Eakin responded that economists have trouble conveying the capacity of U.S. workers and employers to adjust.
"It's pretty tough to knock the U.S. economy off-course," he said.