Public Displeasure With Immigration Misses Benefits That Newcomers Bring

Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the nation’s immigration levels. A majority of those who are dissatisfied call for a decrease in immigration levels. Concerns over immigration levels in the United States usually focus on the purported negative impact immigrants have on the nation’s labor market and entitlement programs. Plenty of evidence, however, points to the exact opposite reality.

The latest Gallup Poll shows that 60 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with immigration levels in this country. That figure is up six percentage points from 2014, but lower than the high-water mark of 72 percent, which was set in 2008.

The timing of the record dissatisfaction level is telling. In 2008, the nation sank into its worst recession since the Great Depression, with unemployment swelling, businesses failing and a swooning stock market battering retirement savings. As a result, advocates for reduced immigration frequently repeat that immigrants (supposedly) flood a weak labor market and thus make it harder for Americans to find work. They also claim that immigration booms depress wages, and that immigrants lean heavily on social services such as welfare.

There may be a limited truth to effects on the labor market and social services, but the impact is decidedly short-term. The longer-term impact of cutting immigration levels would be much greater — and overwhelmingly negative. According to the White House, the U.S. economy would lose $80 billion in economic output, the nation’s deficits would grow by $40 billion over the next 10 years, and the Social Security Trust Fund would be shortchanged $50 billion if the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are not granted a path to citizenship.

By contrast, a 2013 Center for American Progress study concluded that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants living in the United States would increase the gross domestic product by $832 billion over 10 years. In addition, researchers predicted that the total personal income of all Americans would increase by $470 billion during the same period.

Especially now that the U.S. economy has revived, with unemployment levels dropping to pre-recession levels, the increasing demand for labor has not always been satisfied. The agricultural sector, with its heavy reliance on immigrant farm workers, and the technology sector, with its demand for highly skilled foreign-born workers, are two notably hard-hit industries.

But perhaps the biggest argument for immigration concerns the long-term need to keep the nation’s entitlement programs financially sound. A shrinking labor pool is bad enough, but one that is aging at the same time is even worse. The U.S. population itself is aging, but the nation has been very good at attracting young immigrants to help balance the labor market, to increase payments to entitlement programs such as Social Security and to keep retirement ages from being raised even more than they already have been.

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