Right-Wing Media Misrepresent CBO To Pit U.S. Workers Against Immigrants

Right-wing media outlets cherry-picked data from a Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate's immigration reform proposal to claim that immigrants who would benefit under the bill will drive down the wages of U.S. workers. In fact, while CBO predicts a slight decrease in wages in the first decade, that decrease would be outweighed by the larger increase in wages in the following decade. CBO also noted that its estimates “do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off” in the first decade.

A post on Breitbart.com asserted that CBO found that “illegal immigrants who would receive amnesty, or legalized status, would see a spike in their income while Americans' incomes dropped.” The post added that “it would be harder for Americans to find jobs if the bill passed.” Similarly, on her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham aired comments by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) claiming the bill would depress U.S. wages, then stated that the bill “goes beyond all common sense”:

In reality, the CBO report on the economic impact of the Senate immigration bill states that “average wages for the entire labor force would be 0.1 percent lower in 2023 and 0.5 percent higher in 2033 under the legislation than under current law.” CBO continues:

The estimated reductions in average wages and per capita GNP for much of the next two decades do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off, on average, under the legislation than they would be under current law. Both of those figures represent differences between the averages for all U.S. residents under the legislation--including both the people who would be residents under current law and the additional people who would come to the country under the legislation--and the averages under current law for people who would be residents in the absence of the legislation.

As noted, the additional people who would become residents under the legislation would earn lower wages, on average, than other residents, which would pull down the average wage and per capita GNP; at the same time, the income earned by capital would increase. [emphasis added]

Indeed, as The Washington Post's Ezra Klein pointed out, the slight fall in U.S. wages that first decade is “driven by new immigrants who are making less than the average wage -- even though their wage has gone way up as compared to what they were making before immigrating.” Klein added:

As for folks already here, CBO is careful to note that their estimates “do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off” in the first 10 years, and in the second 10 years, they estimate that the average American's wages will rise.

The right-wing media's analysis of the report also ignores expected benefits for the U.S. economy. The immigration reform bill would cut close to $1 trillion from the federal deficit over the next two decades while increasing economic output by 5.4 percent over the same time period. Over the next decade, the CBO report found that the bill would increase spending by $262 billion for expanded border enforcement measures, which would be offset by an increase of $459 billion in revenue from taxes paid by immigrants receiving legal status.