Immigration Reduces Black Unemployment

A blog about business and economics.
June 21 2013 8:19 AM

Evidence That Increased Immigration Reduces Black Unemployment Rates  

A customer buys food at a mobile Taqueria in New Orleans.
A customer buys food at a mobile Taqueria in New Orleans.

Photo by Russell McCulley/AFP/Getty Images

To me the striking thing about the economics of immigration is the strange moral calculus it takes for restrictionists' policy prescriptions to make sense even if you rely on the relatively pessimistic empirical studies and simple two-factor economic models that they prefer. Consequently, I think it's often useful for the sake of argument to just accept some of these restrictionist empirics.

But it is worth saying that there's a whole line of research that's much more optimistic about the impact of low-skilled immigration on the wages of native-born Americans. The key issue here theoretically is "skill complementarities"—an influx of taco makers can create jobs for the guys who deliver pallets of soda to restaurants, or an influx of Spanish-speaking hotel maids can create jobs for English-speaking front-desk attendants. A key empirical issue here is to be careful what population exactly you're talking about. There's pretty strong evidence that the marginal low-skilled immigrant depresses the earnings of other immigrants, but concern for the economic welfare of immigrants seems like a perverse reason to restrict immigration.

So to get at complementarities you might be interested in a study like this one from Jack Strauss that looked at how black employment in a given metro area is altered by the level of Latin American immigration to that metro area. Since a strong local economy could simultaneously create jobs for black people and draw in Latino migrants, the question is a bit difficult to answer statistically. But he slices and dices the numbers in a range of different ways and reaches the conclusion that "results strongly support one-way causation from increased immigration including Latinos to higher black wages and lower poverty." In other words, complementarities dominate. The marginal working-class black person in the United States has a different employment profile than the marginal Latin American immigrant, and so the more immigrants you have, the more economic opportunities exist locally for black people.

Advertisement

You can think of this, loosely, as a statistical confirmation that whether or not you speak English fluently is a big deal for what kinds of jobs you can get. In a city with no immigrants, knowing the language doesn't count as a skill. In a city with plenty of immigrants, it does.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.