Jason Richwine's blog

Can Natives Use Their English Literacy to Complement (Rather than Compete with) Immigrant Labor?

By Jason Richwine, June 27, 2017

Last week CIS published my new report on immigrant literacy. Based on scores from an objective test of English ability, the report concludes that the magnitude and persistence of low English literacy among immigrants is a serious concern, and that subjective measures of literacy — e.g., self-assessments — tend to understate the problem.

The report uses scores from the literacy portion of the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a battery of tests administered in the United States between 2012 and 2014. Although I focused on how immigrant scores are substantially (and persistently) lower than native scores, natives themselves can struggle with literacy to a surprising degree — especially natives who experience labor market difficulties. Read more...

Refugees Do Not Pay Their Own Way

By Jason Richwine, June 15, 2017

A working paper released this week by Notre Dame economists William Evans and Daniel Fitzgerald makes the head-scratching claim that refugees, despite below-average incomes and high rates of welfare use, pay $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits during their first 20 years in the United States. Immigration-boosting wonks such as Matt Yglesias and Dylan Matthews immediately trumpeted the findings, and the Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight added favorable write-ups.

They should have been more skeptical. The claim that refugees contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits is simply implausible. The public sector struggles with budget deficits every year, and it relies on the taxes paid by the highest-earning Americans to stay even close to fiscal balance. If disproportionately low-earning and high-welfare-consuming Americans were somehow net fiscal contributors, then governments at all levels would be deep in the black, and politicians would be sparring over what to do with the massive surpluses. Read more...

The Center for American Progress Sets a Low Standard for Immigrants ... and So Do the Media

By Jason Richwine, March 6, 2017

In 2012, native households in poverty consumed an average of $14,400 in welfare benefits, while immigrant households in poverty consumed "only" $13,100 of welfare. Does the $1,300 difference mean poor immigrants benefit American taxpayers? Read more...

Did the Mariel Boatlift Benefit 'Low-Skill' Miamians?

By Jason Richwine, January 12, 2017

The Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh published a new analysis last week of the famous Mariel boatlift. The boatlift was a massive inflow of Cuban refugees to Miami over the course of a single summer in 1980. To make a long story short, the recent work of economist George Borjas indicates that the boatlift probably caused a decline in wages for Miami workers who did not have a high school degree.

In contrast, Nowrasteh says that Borjas's own methods indicate that the boatlift "raised the wages of low-skill Miamians." The reason is that "low-skill" for Nowrasteh means both high school dropouts and people with only a high school degree (hereafter "HS-and-below") – a definition that covers more than half the workers in Miami at the time. Nowrasteh combines the wage decline for dropouts and the wage increase for high school graduates and argues that Mariel's overall effect on "low-skill" natives is positive. Read more...

Immigration Is Surging from Countries with Starkly Different Cultural Values

By Jason Richwine, November 18, 2016

Donald Trump's ascension to the presidency means that he will have a chance to implement the "extreme vetting" of immigrants he proposed during the campaign. In a speech at Youngstown, Ohio, back in August, Trump suggested that immigrants would be evaluated not only for their possible connections to terrorism, but also for their commitment to First World values.

The new policy would be timely. As I noted a couple of months ago, no one will be surprised that social views in traditional societies differ from those in the post-industrial West, but the degree of divergence can be striking. Immigration is surging from countries where that divergence is especially large. Read more...

Single-Paragraph 'Fact-Check' Resolves Longstanding Economics Debate

By Jason Richwine, October 6, 2016

During Tuesday's vice presidential debate, Mike Pence said the Clinton-Kaine ticket supports immigration policies that are "driving wages down in this country." The ABC News fact-checker, applying its infinite wisdom to a longstanding debate in the economics profession, declared this claim "mostly false".

I have always had a low opinion of the fact-check movement, since the supposedly objective fact-checkers are influenced by the same biases that reporters bring to other types of news. (See here and here for some delightful skewerings of the fact-checkers by Mark Hemingway.) But this time ABC News has gone beyond merely dressing up its opinions as fact. Every sentence of this fact-check is false, misleading, or vague. Start with its citation of the recent National Academies study on immigration: Read more...

Immigration Advocates Are in Denial About the Plight of Low-Skill Americans

By Jason Richwine, September 15, 2016

In a CIS Backgrounder released last week, I showed that low-skill Americans have been dropping out of the labor force even as low-skill immigrants have been finding plenty of work. For example, while natives fell from 56 percent of the nation's high school dropouts to 52 percent, their share of the labor performed by all dropouts declined much faster — from 50 percent in the 2003-2005 period to 40 percent in 2012-2015.

The point is not necessarily that immigrants are pushing natives out of the labor force — the data cannot address causation here — but that immigration has been a crutch, or band-aid, that allows politicians and businessmen to ignore the growing problem of idleness among low-skill Americans. Read more...

Is It Sometimes Justifiable for a Man to Beat His Wife?
Americans have sharply different views of gender equality compared to residents of some immigrant-sending countries

By Jason Richwine, September 12, 2016
Americans have sharply different views of gender equality compared to residents of some immigrant-sending countries

Part of Donald Trump's "extreme vetting" proposal may include a test for whether potential immigrants conform to American views on the rights of women. How important is such a test?

While no one will be surprised that traditional societies are less likely to favor gender equality than First World countries such as the United States, the sheer size of the differences can be striking. The three figures below use questions from the World Values Survey to illustrate the disparities. All of the comparison nations are developing countries that have sent at least 100,000 immigrants to the United States as of 2014. Read more...

New White House Report on Labor-Force Dropout Is Strangely Confused About Immigration

By Jason Richwine, June 22, 2016

The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) released a new report this week on the long-term decline of work among men ages 25 to 54. Although it contains some interesting insights, the report's specific treatment of immigration is weak and contradictory. Let's start with the CEA's primary explanation for why men have been dropping out of the labor force:

The prime-age male labor force participation rate has been falling in the United States for more than half a century…. No single factor can fully explain this decline, but analysis suggests that a reduction in the demand for less skilled labor has been a key cause of declining participation rates as well as lower wages for less skilled workers. [Emphasis added.]

"Schrodinger's Immigrant" Is No Paradox: Welfare and Work Go Together in Today's America

By Jason Richwine, May 17, 2016

Immigration skeptics need to get their stories straight, according to a misleading internet meme that has been going around the past couple of years. Immigrants either compete with natives for jobs, or they go on welfare. It can't be both, right? That's the point of the graphic below, which is a play on the famous Schrodinger's Cat paradox. "Too lazy to work" is presumably a reference to concerns about immigrants using welfare, which other iterations have made explicit. Read more...

No, Deporting Illegal Immigrants Would Not Make Americans $600 Billion Poorer

By Jason Richwine, May 13, 2016

The American Action Forum (AAF) published a study last week arguing that the U.S. economy would lose as much as $623 billion in labor output if illegal immigrants were deported. The AAF portrayed this as a major economic loss for Americans, and a credulous media went along with it. "Tremendously expensive," according to Townhall. "Economic havoc," proclaimed Politico. "A devastating blow," said The Week. Read more...

Should We Be Satisfied That Immigrants Are "A Better Class of Underclass"?

By Jason Richwine, May 11, 2016

On Monday, CIS published my new study comparing the welfare consumption of immigrant and native households. It shows that immigrant households consume an average of about $6,200 worth of welfare dollars, while native households consume about $4,400. The main reasons for the difference are the lower level of education and greater number of children in immigrant households.

This new report is CIS's second analysis of the Census Bureau's Survey of Income Program Participation. The first study (released last September) focused on participation rates, showing that 51 percent of immigrant households used some form of welfare. Now we are able to quantify the costs associated with that participation. Read more...

Overstating Immigrant Entrepreneurship

By Jason Richwine, March 21, 2016

There is no doubt that immigrants have helped start many successful companies in the United States, but immigration advocacy groups sometimes overstate the case. Take the latest report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), an organization that advocates expanded immigration. As highlighted in Friday's Wall Street Journal, the NFAP report states that 44 out of 87 private companies worth over $1 billion were founded by immigrants.

Although this is an interesting finding, it is less impressive than it sounds. Read more...

Most of the Gains from Immigration Go to Immigrants Themselves – Not to Natives

By Jason Richwine, February 10, 2016

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal featured a reasonably balanced look at the economic effects of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants. The state has enjoyed a 40 percent decline in its illegal population since it mandated E-Verify and empowered local police to check immigration status during traffic stops. (Because Arizona's decline is larger than in surrounding states, we may plausibly attribute it to the new policies.) The Journal points out that fewer illegal immigrants has meant less overall economic output for Arizona, but also higher wages in some sectors and less of a financial strain on schools and hospitals. Read more...

In the Wall Street Journal, Two Immigration-Boosting Economists Make a False Statement, Duck Debate

By Jason Richwine, January 19, 2016

When academics are faced with criticism, one way for them to respond is to carefully explain why they believe the criticisms are invalid. Another option is to pretend the criticism does not exist. Economists Giovanni Peri and Vasil Yasenov chose the latter approach in today's Wall Street Journal. By ignoring counter-arguments, they have further obscured the debate over immigration and wages. Read more...