Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Refugees Aren't Taking Your Jobs

Celebrated labor economist David Card [...] studied the 1980 Mariel boatlift, in which Fidel Castro suddenly decided to let about 125,000 Cubans emigrate to the U.S. Most of them ended up in Miami. Card, making the assumption that the whim of a dictator like Castro is unlikely to be affected by labor market conditions in Miami, realized that this presented a perfect “natural experiment” with which to study how immigration affects native-born workers. Surprisingly, Card found that the surge of immigrants had no effect on wages or employment levels for low-skilled Miamians. That result, and many subsequent studies reaching the same conclusion, changed the way most economists think about the costs and benefits of immigration.

[ George Borjas, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (and a Cuban immigrant himself), who has been described by major publications as “America’s leading immigration economist” and “the pre-eminent scholar in his field”], an inveterate immigration skeptic, disagrees. In 2015 he wrote a paper claiming that if you look carefully enough, you can see a big harmful impact of the Mariel immigration wave on the wages of a certain group of native-born Miamian high-school dropouts.

Let me guess: Borjas is one of the Cuban immigrants whose family lost their thriving sugar business (or casino) when Castro came to power.
Card sniffed that Borjas was “flailing around.” Giovanni Peri and Vasil Yasenov of the University of California-Davis noted that by limiting his sample to male high-school dropouts between the ages of 25 and 59, and excluding non-Cuban Hispanics, Borjas had limited himself to a sample of just 17 to 25 observations. That’s probably too small of a sample to draw strong statistical conclusions.
Peri and Yasenov found that even slight changes to the set of workers being measured eliminates the negative effect that Borjas claimed to find. A 2017 follow-up paper by Peri and Yasenov, using more sophisticated statistical methods, concluded that Borjas’ result was due to measurement error. Other studies also found the opposite of what Borjas claimed.


A number of studies of refugee waves have found little or no impact on the employment of native-born workers in the cities where the refugees go. These small or zero effects hold whether the refugees go to rich countries, poor countries, or simply to neighboring countries.


The ongoing dispute highlights the unfortunate fact that in empirical social science, long-running arguments rarely get definitively resolved -- so don’t expect Borjas or his critics to ever surrender. But the weight and volume of evidence must count for something, and the emerging consensus is that immigration just doesn’t hurt native-born workers very much.
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

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