Always Room for More


How would native workers be affected if millions of legal and illegal immigrants were allowed to enter this country over the next 10 years? University of Chicago economist Robert Topel analyzed the effects of the estimated 4 million immigrants who arrived between 1970 and 1980 and concluded that large numbers of immigrants do not, in fact, hurt native workers.

While immigrants take low-paying jobs and pull down the average wage in an area, Topel found that any effects on native workers were "quite minor," even for native Hispanic or young black men, who because of their low average wages and high incidence of unemployment are especially sensitive to this competition. Immigrants are "easily absorbed," Topel concluded, even in gateway cities such as Los Angeles (where immigrants accounted for 65 percent of the total growth in the labor force).

A large number of newcomers might lower wages for other recently arrived immigrants, but that effect is small. If the number of immigrants in a particular area were doubled, Topel estimates, the wages of other recent immigrants in the same area would decline by only 2.5 percent.

The positive effects of immigration—increasing the labor supply and national product and reducing the prices of some goods—have not been sufficient to persuade Congress to open the borders significantly, in large part because of fear that American workers will suffer. Topel's study, done for the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research, should mitigate that fear.