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Evaluating the Economic Costs and Benefits of Immigration Previous Next
Digital History ID 3299


Few subjects arouse more controversy than the economic impact of immigration. Some argue that migration benefits societies economically by providing a pool of young, energetic, reliable workers. Other argue, in contrast, that immigration overload the labor force, overburdens social services, and overwhelm society's capacity to absorb and assimilate newcomers.

Critics of immigration make several economic arguments. They contend that immigrants take jobs away from low-skilled native born workers and depress wages. They maintain that immigrants make greater use of public services such as welfare, health services, and public education than do the native born. They also argue that the immigrants who are currently arriving into countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and the United States are relatively less-skilled and less-educated than those who came in the past, and that they are more cut off from mainstream culture than those who arrived earlier in history. Such critics argue that restricting immigration would open up job opportunities for many native-born minority workers and reduce tax burdens.

Proponents of immigration respond to such arguments in several ways. For one thing, they argue that in evaluating the costs and benefits of immigration, it is important to recognize the ways that immigrants contribute to living standards, particularly for the middle class. Although low-wage immigrant workers are often blamed for unemployment and depressed wages, in fact they make it cheaper to buy many goods and services--everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to clothing, construction, and childcare. As birth rates fall, immigrants assume many necessary but less desirable jobs, picking crops, washing dishes in restaurants, laundering clothes, staffing hospitals, and running small shops.

Undocumented (or "illegal") immigrants, they maintain, are overwhelmingly employed in sectors of the economy paying low wages, offering little job security, and few or no benefits. Because of the lack of opportunities for advancement, few native-born workers are attracted to these jobs.

Proponents of immigration further argue that immigrants are not simply producers, but consumers as well, who create demand that helps invigorate an economy. They create markets for housing, clothing, and other products and services. In general, immigrants are attracted to areas of high economic growth and labor shortages and as a result they note that immigration has little or no effect on the wages or unemployment rate.

  1. How do you evaluate these contrasting points of view?
  2. What kinds of evidence in support of these positions would you find most persuasive?

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