Opinion: The American immigration myth

The misconception that immigrants hurt the U.S. economy is vastly incorrect,
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/edwinbai/" target="_self">Edwin Bai</a>

Edwin Bai

July 28, 2022
Recently, the U.S. has seen a huge surge of immigration in the past decade, with the total number of immigrants being 47 million, which is 14.4% of the U.S. population in 2015, according to the United Nations Population Division. Immigration has brought many different cultures to the U.S., and it has brought diversity to the nation’s society as well as benefited the economy by increasing the labor force. 

However, immigration comes with the expensive societal costs of education, health care and housing. Education for immigrants costs $3.3 billion in just California alone, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. This raises the question for many people — is immigration really worth the cost? 

As it stands, the benefits immigration gives to our economy far outweigh its cost of it, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s report “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration.”

The most important aspect of immigration is the increase in the labor force. Many immigrants who travel to the U.S. work in low-paying jobs, which bolsters the workforce working in those areas.

A larger labor force is beneficial because employees can pay workers less due to the increase in numbers, adhering to the simple supply and demand function. An example of this is in construction, where many immigrants work. The increased labor force is extremely important in industries where the labor force is much smaller, as it increases the output potential of an industry. 

The belief that immigrants “steal” the jobs of American citizens is completely wrong, and in fact, immigrants actually create jobs for others by starting businesses, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Most immigrants are also of working age, which correlates to the huge increase in the labor force. Without immigrants, the size of the U.S. labor force would be much smaller and have fewer people that are of working age, resulting in a smaller economic growth and a smaller economy. 

The stigma surrounding immigrants and the economy in the U.S. is largely untrue. Many Americans believe that immigrants harm the economy more than they benefit it. Although it is true that immigrants do cost the U.S. government a large sum of money for education and health care services, the cost is made up by their filling in labor shortages in different industries.

In fact, immigrants increase the size of the economy by 11% each year, which is about $2 trillion in 2016, according to “Consequences of Immigration.” However, the benefits of immigration are mainly from the contribution of legal immigrants, as illegal immigrants barely benefit the economy, although they still benefit the economy nonetheless, according to PhysOrg

An example of this is in the state of Texas, where illegal immigrants totaled 1.6 million, which is 5.7% of the population. Texas still collects $2.4 billion in state taxes from this group each year. The state did annually spend $2 billion on illegal immigrants in 2018 through healthcare services, education and incarceration costs according to the study reported by PhysOrg, but this is still less than the $2.4 billion illegal immigrants contribute to the state. 

According to José Iván Rodríguez-Sánchez, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the Baker Institute, for every dollar spent on public services for undocumented immigrants, these immigrants provide $1.21 in fiscal revenue for the state of Texas. Texas would lose $70.3 billion in a year if all undocumented workers were deported from the state, which proves that even illegal immigrants are valuable to our economy.

Further, immigrants don’t all work in low pay jobs either. In fact, they play a key role in STEM fields as well.

Immigrants hold a disproportionate share of jobs in the STEM field and they account for more than half the number of STEM workers with Phds, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. They are also most prevalent in computer-related jobs, like software programming, according to NBER. These immigrants are highly skilled, and with their work in the STEM field, they can be very valuable sources of US innovation. 

There is also a correlation between immigrants and the number of STEM workers in an area. It has been proven that areas with higher immigration have more STEM workers, according to “Consequences of Immigration.” The increase in STEM workers benefits the economy due to the helpful nature of these highly skilled STEM workers. Not only do they increase competitiveness, which generates new ideas and new innovations, but they also create new jobs, close racial wage gaps and earn more money compared to non-STEM jobs. 

There is no doubt that immigrants greatly benefit the U.S. economy, far outweighing the cost of immigration. Without immigrants, the U.S. economy would not be as large as it is and the US population would have a smaller percentage of people fit for labor work.

The misconception that immigrants hurt the U.S. economy is vastly incorrect, as immigrants do nothing but benefit our economy, including illegal immigrants. Therefore, immigration is a necessary part of the U.S., and its growth will propel the country further beyond its rivals, such as China or the European Union.  

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