Immigration In The 21st Century: Pros And Cons

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INTRODUCTION Immigration in the 21st Century: Pros and Cons In light of the recent September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there has been a widespread resultant paranoia in the American psyche. Amongst one of the ?preventive measures? to curb further terrorist activities, the American immigration policy was scrutinized upon intensely. Long-time skeptics of immigration, including former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, have tried in recent days to turn those legitimate concerns about security into a general argument against openness to immigration. However, what these immigration skeptics failed to see is that terrorist activities and immigration are two different issues altogether and should not be linked under any circumstance. In this essay, this issue will be discussed in addition to the broader topic in this regard: why the United States should keep its traditional policy of open immigration.

REALITY CHECK Amongst the anti-immigration stalwarts, the primary argument is that continual immigration at the present pace would bring economic woes to this country, particularly in the case of labor competition and wages. However, based on the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Immigration) on April 4th, 2001, Stephen Moore, Senior Fellow in Economics of Cato Institute, these claims are unjust if not unfounded. Based on the anti-immigration advocates claims, the current level of immigration would lead to such economic problems as: 1) increased unemployment for native born workers; 2) higher poverty rates of native born Americans; 3) lower incomes for American workers; 4) increased economic problems for minority workers; 5) a huge surge in welfare dependency; and 6) lower overall rates of economic growth. Nonetheless, the evidence thus far cannot substantiate such assertions.

Unemployment - In the period 1978-82 the U.S. unemployment rate was between 6 and 8%. Today, the U.S. unemployment rate is between 4 and 5%. The U.S. economy has shown a remarkable ability to absorb new workers into the economy?both natives and immigrants?without causing job losses. Between 1980 and 2000 the U.S. became a job creation machine, with some 35 million more Americans employed today than 20 years ago. The U.S. has created more new jobs in the past 20 years than all of Japan and Europe combined since 1980. In fact, despite the fact that the U.S. takes in nearly as many immigrants in a year as does all of Japan and Europe combined, it is the U.S.?the nation of immigrants?that now has the lowest unemployment rate in the industrialized world.

Poverty - The poverty rate for Americans has fallen over the past 20 years for all races. The latest poverty rate statistics indicate that poverty is lower than at anytime since the mid 1970s. See Figure 4. A recent study by the Center of Immigration Studies reports that since 1980 the rate of poverty among immigrants has risen. Of course, if the overall level of poverty has fallen during this period, it means that the reduction in poverty for native-born Americans has been all the more impressive. In sum, there is no evidence that immigrants increase poverty among natives, in fact the evidence suggests the opposite effect.

Incomes - Median family income in the U.S. has risen over the period 1981-1998 from $39,000 to $45,800 or by roughly 16 percent, according to recent Census Bureau data. With inflation properly measured, median family income has risen since 1981 by closer to 25 percent. Again, wage suppression does not appear to have occurred in this period of high immigration.

Economic Advancement of Minorities - There is still in America far too wide an income gap between the races. But over the past 20 years of high levels of immigration, the income gap has actually shrunk, not widened. For example, since the early 1980s, the growth of incomes for black families has...
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