Although they represent close to 13 per cent of the US population, immigrants accounted for nearly 36 per cent of growth in home ownership between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Research Institute for Housing Americaand the Mortgage Bankers Association. While this has been driven mainly by the Hispanic community, other minority populations have also boosted gains.
It’s well known that high-skilled immigrants directly benefit the US economy. They have started 52 percent of Silicon Valley’s tech companies and receive 75 percent of patents earned at top universities. Each STEM immigrant creates 2.62 American jobs.But what this piece suggests is that low-skilled and other immigrants also have something to offer. High numbers of immigrants in cities are associated with higher wages, higher incomes, and more high-tech industry, says Richard Florida. (Whether immigrants are simply drawn to cities with more opportunity or are partly responsible for the boom isn’t clear, but the correlation is there.)Even large-scale immigration critic and Harvard economist George Borjas admits in a new report that both legal and illegal immigrants have grown the economy by 11 percent, or $1.6 trillion, since 1990 (though Borjas also claims that large-scale immigration transfers wealth from poor to wealthy Americans).Lowering the barriers to high-skilled immigrants is a no brainer. The question of low skill immigration is more complicated. Legalizing the illegal inevitably creates incentives for new illegals to come. And the wealth effect is troubling; African Americans in particularly are vulnerable to economic competition from newcomers at a time when the fragile hold of many African American households on middle class status is under threat.On balance we think a path to regularize the status of people here illegally makes human and economic sense, though we have yet to see the kind of commitment to border security from amnesty backers that must in our view complement such a move. It is also clear from the recent events in Boston that there are some national security questions that immigration policy has not fully taken on board. We’d like to see more attention paid to this issue. Beyond that, we favor a basically welcoming stance to a reasonable number of law abiding people who want to join their fortunes to ours year by year.Those who worry about the consequences of immigration need to understand that to some degree America’s declining birth rate makes immigration necessary. The Boomers chose not to have enough kids to maintain the pension and entitlement systems they plan to rely on, and the Gen Xers continue the trend. Immigration is a necessary part of the policy mix America needs if we are going to deal with our demographic transition in a reasonable way; that reality has to influence the tough political debates on this issue.[Passport image courtesy of Shutterstock]