New Study Shatters Conservative Media Claims About Immigration

One of the most repeated claims against immigration reform from conservative media is that legalizing immigrants would negatively impact the U.S. economy. Another is that immigrants take jobs from American workers. And that the economy should take precedence over immigration reform, despite the fact that immigration is an economic issue. 

A new study that examined government data over a 40-year period has punctured all of these myths, finding that immigration -- vital to hard-hit communities across the nation -- has a positive effect on the country and the economy, especially in the manufacturing sector. 

As CBS News reported, a study by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that immigrants “are boosting job growth, raising home prices and more broadly helping to revive thousands of economically distressed communities.” Many of those communities, CBS News pointed out, are in rural areas with a heavy manufacturing focus. 

The study, prepared by Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey to assess the impact of immigration on “the number of middle-class manufacturing jobs,” “the health of the housing market,” and “the size of the local U.S.-born population.” It looked at nearly 3,100 counties within a 40-year period from 1970 to 2010. 

The report highlighted three key findings: 

  • “For every 1,000 immigrants living in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved that would otherwise not exist or have moved elsewhere.”
  • “Each of the 40 million immigrants in the U.S. adds, on average, 11.6 cents to the value of a home in their local county. This adds $3.7 trillion to U.S. housing wealth nationally.”
  • “For every 1,000 immigrants that arrive to a county, 270 U.S.-born residents move there in response. These residents are drawn by the increasing demand for service-oriented businesses ranging from restaurants to law firms and by the employment that is preserved in sectors like manufacturing.” 

The study found that the “arrival of high-skilled immigrants as well as workers that are part of the essential economy has also greatly contributed to the growth of the manufacturing industry in places like Los Angeles, Houston, and in southern Arizona.” To illustrate, the study contrasted Los Angeles County with Cook County in Chicago and found: 

A wave of new foreign-born residents moved to both areas between 1970 and 2010, but the growth was proportionately much larger in Los Angeles. There, the immigrant population nearly quintupled, compared to the doubling experienced in Cook County. 

Bearing in mind that when 1,000 immigrants move to an area 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved, the fact that Los Angeles added 2.7 million immigrants over this time period -- rather than Cook County's 600,000 -- accounts for about half of the difference in total manufacturing jobs between the two areas in 2010. Immigrants now account for more than 35 percent of the population in Los Angeles County, a substantial share of the population. 

Indeed, according to the report, this means that the more than 40 million immigrants in the United States have “created or preserved 1.8 million manufacturing jobs”:

This is not an insignificant number, especially in light of the fact that the same number of jobs has been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the manufacturing industry saw persistent job losses from July 2006 to March 2010, before the industry mounted a tentative recovery that has since seemingly stalled

More importantly, the study concluded that if the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country were deported, “U.S. housing wealth would drop by $1 trillion and the manufacturing sector would shed an additional half-million U.S. jobs.” The report added:

Attracting 100,000 new immigrants per year, on the other hand, would create or preserve 4,600 American manufacturing jobs and grow U.S. housing wealth by $80 billion annually. 

In fact, according to the report, if Los Angeles County's estimated 3.5 million immigrants vanished, about 40 percent of the county's manufacturing jobs would also disappear. 

Other counties, including the top five counties that saw the most job increases -- Harris in Texas, Maricopa in Arizona, and Orange, San Diego, and Santa Clara in California -- saw significant job increases in manufacturing thanks to immigration as well. 

Moreover, in contrast to the oft-repeated conservative myth that immigrants take jobs away from native-born Americans, the report stated: “The notion stems from the idea that the amount of work to be done in the United States is finite and immutable. This, however, is not the case.” It continued: 

[A] major trend over the past half century or more has been for mobile employers to outsource work, primarily to take advantage of lower labor costs abroad. Domestic firms have also had to downsize as foreign-owned firms undercut them on price. 

By introducing a new labor force into  the United States -- sometimes with  skills in short supply in the broader U.S. population -- immigration actually prevents some mobile employers from moving their operations elsewhere. This has a major impact on the U.S. economy. Manufacturers that remain on American soil employ workers at a variety of skill levels, from laborers on the factory floor to secretaries and executives. 

Having manufacturing companies remain in America is also helpful to other U.S. companies--like part providers and human resources firms--that support the manufacturers' work locally.