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US immigration has a positive effect on wages

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The debate on immigration will continue as members of Congress consider whether or not a guest worker program will become a reality in 2007. Although authors of the bill say it is not an amnesty program, features of the bill will help immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for two years and have an employer who will sponsor them. The proposed bill would allow those immigrants to live and work in the U.S. along with their families.

A crucial part of the debate rests on the effects of immigration on wages in America. The opponents of a guest worker program believe that allowing immigrants to work in the country has the effect of lowering wages paid to U.S. workers because they are competing against immigrants who are willing to accept lower wages. In other words, they claim immigrants will work for less pay.

A common idea is that more immigrants increase the supply of labor and therefore decrease wages that will be paid since more people are competing for the same jobs. A recent study by Immigration Policy Center at the University of California (Davis campus) argues that the theory that immigrants decrease wages is a misconception.

The study compared wages paid in the U.S. between 1990 and 2004. This is what the study found. Immigrants and U.S. workers do not generally compete for the same jobs. Their skills and educational levels at the lower job levels are different than those workers who are born in America. Immigrant workers are concentrated at the lowest and highest level of occupations, but have a relatively small representation among regular workers. Immigrants usually choose different occupations than the average American worker because that is the work that is available to them. These are jobs that U.S.-born workers won't take because they find those types of work unappealing. Those types of jobs include dishwashing in restaurants, farm work, landscaping work, care giving, and low- level construction work.

Immigrants do not displace American workers. Instead, they supply labor that is very much needed and help the American way of life. Go into any grocery store and look at the produce section. The prices for fruits and vegetables would be considerably higher if immigrant laborers were not available to pick those crops. In reality immigrants do not usually compete against U.S. workers, but compete against each other.

During the 14 years period of the study by the Immigration Policy Center (1990 to 2004), 90% of U.S. citizens wage earners experienced substantial wage gains. There is no independent evidence that working immigrants lowered wages.

On the other end of the wage question are immigrant workers who work at high-level jobs. Those immigrants (such as computer experts and scientists) have been recruited by companies that need their help because they cannot find comparable U.S. workers to do those jobs. Their wages are comparable to U.S. workers in the same profession. They are paid at the same rate, or higher rate, as other workers in the same field. Therefore, these special workers do not suppress wages. The evidence suggests that these high-level immigrant workers actually stimulate investment since they are instrumental in fields that rely on high technology. They help the U.S. economy.

The argument is strong that immigration has a positive effect on wages and the economy in general. 150 years of immigration from all parts of the world demonstrate that the United States benefits from immigration because of the creativity of immigrants and their willingness to work hard.


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