One of the biggest questions about immigration policy is whether it enriches the receiving country — and, more important, whether it enriches those already here.
A new analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that while the country as a whole does grow richer with immigration, on a per capita basis it does not.
Steven A. Camarota looked at a number of advanced economies across the globe this decade and calculated that population growth — the chief economic benefit of immigration, since more people means more workers — does not automatically correlate with higher per capita gross domestic product, a benchmark yardstick for standard of living.
“Prior research and the results presented here show that population growth may actually reduce per capita economic growth in developed countries,” Mr. Camarota, the research director for CIS, concluded. “This should give pause to anyone who is convinced that slowing population growth in the United States necessarily portends a population disaster.”
The debate over immigration and economic growth has grown intense after new census numbers showed the U.S. saw its second lowest-ever decade of growth over the last 10 years, trailing only the Depression-addled 1930s.
And that doesn’t account for the coronavirus “baby bust” that analysts now say looks to cut hundreds of thousands of births off the expected rate last year and this year, sending the birth rate well below replacement levels.
Backers of higher levels of immigration said foreigners can be tapped to make up for that sluggish growth.
In an opinion piece commissioned by a major corporate lobby, FWD.us, George Mason University scholar Justin Gest argued that doubling immigration levels would make the U.S. “younger, more productive and richer.”
“The general trend in our modeling is clear: the more immigrants, the merrier,” he wrote.
But Mr. Camarota said that is the view from the top of the pyramid, looking at the whole country. When looked at from the perspective of individual citizens, it looks different.
Indeed, the last time the Congressional Budget Office did a full analysis of a major immigration legalization and expansion bill, it found that the country as a whole grew richer, but that wealth was spread among more people, and viewed per capita the county was actually slightly less well off.
A more recent CBO report last year said the benefits of immigration are not evenly spread.
Those with higher levels of education do benefit, but low-skilled workers end up competing — and suffering.
It also depends on how the U.S. selects newcomers.
“To the extent that newly arrived workers have abilities similar to those of workers already in the country, immigration would have a negative effect on wages,” the CBO analysts said. “To the extent that newly arrived workers have abilities that complement those of workers already in the country, immigration would foster productivity increases, having a positive effect on wages.”