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The Racial Blame Game

posted Mar 16, 2011, 4:23 PM by Sumiyia Jafri   [ updated Mar 16, 2011, 4:32 PM ]
These days it seems that some people want to blame immigrants for every problem under the sun: high taxes, crime, pollution, the national deficit, healthcare costs, even traffic. Now some folks are even trying to say that immigrants are solely to blame for unemployment and lower wages among minorities. While immigrants might present a convenient scapegoat for some people to explain away all of life's problems, don't throw your hands up in frustration and defeat when you hear some repeat this misinformation, consider responding with these quick mythbusting facts!

Myth: Immigrants are the cause of unemployment among minorities.

Fact: Wrong. If immigrants took jobs away from large numbers of minority workers, one would expect to find higher minority unemployment rates in those parts of the country with larger numbers of immigrants. Yet data from the 2009 American Community Survey, analyzed for the IPC by Rob Paral and Associates, indicate that there is no correlation between the size of the foreign-born population and the African American unemployment rate in U.S. metropolitan areas.

African American unemployment rates in many low-immigration cities are far higher than in many high-immigration cities. For instance, immigrants were 17.6 percent of the population in Miami in 2009, but only 3.1 percent of the population in Toledo. Yet the unemployment rate for African Americans in Toledo (30.1 percent) was much higher than that of African Americans in Miami (17.6 percent).

Myth: Immigrants are the cause of low wages for minority workers.

The most recent economic research indicates that immigration produces a slight increase in wages for the majority of native-born workers. This occurs in two ways. First, immigrants and natives tend to have different levels of education, work in different occupations, and possess different skills. The jobs which immigrants and natives perform are frequently interdependent. This increases the productivity of natives, which increases their wages. Second, the addition of immigrant workers to the labor force stimulates investment as new restaurants and stores open, new homes are built, etc. This increases the demand for labor, which exerts upward pressure on wages.

The wage increase which native-born workers experience as a result of immigration is very small, but it is an increase. A 2010 report from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that, from 1994 to 2007, immigration increased the wages of native-born workers by 0.4 percent. The impact of recent immigration on native-born wages varied slightly by the race, educational attainment, and gender of the worker.

Myth: Immigration causes unemployment.

Wrong again. Immigrants and native-born workers fill different kinds of jobs that require different skills. Even among less-educated workers, immigrants and native-born workers tend to work in different occupations and industries. If they do work in the same occupation or industry—or even the same business—they usually specialize in different tasks, with native-born workers taking higher-paid jobs that require better English-language skills than many immigrant workers possess. In other words, immigrants and native-born workers usually complement each other rather than compete.

More mythbusting facts on this subject can be found in The Racial Blame Game, a new report by the Immigration Policy Center.