Wall Street Journal
By Jeffrey Sparshott
March 22, 2016
Men in the U.S. illegally are more likely to work than their native-born counterparts, and they’re willing to take jobs pretty much regardless of how much or little they get paid, new research from Harvard University finds.
The study fleshes out the behavior of undocumented workers—a group that by its nature can be difficult to analyze.
The challenge of studying the roughly 11.3 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. leaves policy makers guessing on the implications for a wide range of proposals—from offering such workers a path to citizenship to kicking them out of the country.
To help fill in some gaps in policy assumptions, Harvard University professor George Borjas used newly developed statistical methods to sift through native-born, legal and illegal workers showing up in the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (the same survey that informs the Labor Department’s monthly employment report).
Mr. Borjas arrives at three initial conclusions:
Undocumented immigrant men are far more likely to work than other groups, while undocumented immigrant women are far less likely to work.
The employment gap that distinguishes undocumented men from the other groups widened dramatically over the past twenty years. By 2014, the probability that an undocumented man was employed…was around 12 percentage points larger than that of native men. The probability that undocumented women are employed also grew at a relatively faster rate, but the increase was far less dramatic.
The labor supply of undocumented workers is not as responsive to wage changes as the labor supply of the other groups in the population. In fact, the data clearly suggest that the labor supply of undocumented men is almost perfectly inelastic.
Mr. Borjas’s “employment rate” echoes the official labor-force participation rate but he measures a somewhat different ratio.
Illegal immigration has been one of the hot topics in recent policy debates and during the presidential election. Reform efforts petered out on Capitol Hill in 2014. Last year, the discussion took a turn when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump launched his campaign with comments branding many immigrants as criminals.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Mr. Trump said in June. “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
He’s also called for mass deportation and a wall to keep immigrants out. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also have sparred over immigration.
Critics of heavy immigration have cited Mr. Borjas’s previous work showing low-skilled immigration has reduced the wages of U.S. born high-school dropouts. But others have found more benign effects.
What are some of the numbers? In separate research last year, The Pew Research Center found the number of illegal immigrants has remained stable for the past five years at 11.3 million, following decades of rapid growth. Among that group, 8.1 million are working or looking for work, accounting for about 5% of the U.S. labor force.
The latest research suggests that men in that category are willing to do jobs that many native-born American men shun—at least at the wages on offer.
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