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Immigration is a wash on wages, but an overall boost for economy, professor says

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made immigration a hot topic for the Nov. 8 election with his claims that Mexican illegal immigrants were criminals and "rapists" and that they are stealing Americans' jobs.

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Oscar Flores. a professor of economics at Minnesota State University Moorhead, discussed the economic importance of immigration on the American economy in a lecture Monday, Oct. 10, at MSUM. (Photo by Helmut Schmidt)

MOORHEAD, Minn. - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made immigration a hot topic for the Nov. 8 election with his claims that Mexican illegal immigrants were criminals and "rapists" and that they are stealing Americans' jobs.

But those claims don't hold up-for the most part-says Oscar Flores, a professor of economics at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

In fact, without the 40 million of mostly working-age immigrants, legal and illegal in the U.S., the nation would have a harder time supporting Social Security for our aging population, we'd pay a lot more for health care for our seniors, and even getting a good burger or steak would be more expensive, Flores said in a lecture this week on immigrants and their impact on the economy.

He called the MSUM event "a service to the community."

"This is what the research says. People can draw their own conclusions," said Flores during the Monday, Oct. 10, lecture. Flores is an immigrant from Mexico who got his master's and doctoral degrees in the U.S. and has been teaching at MSUM since 1989.

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Illegal immigrants are currently estimated to be 12 million of the 40 million foreign-born residents of the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Immigrants make up about 12.9 percent of the population.

Where they come from has changed significantly in the past five-plus decades.

In 1960, 86 percent of immigrants came from Europe, 6 percent from Mexico and 4 percent each from Asia and Latin America. In 2014, 30 percent of immigrants came from Mexico, 29 percent from Asia, 26 percent from other Latin American nations, and 15 percent from Europe.

Flores said for most people, immigration has no effect on wages.

However, for American-born people with little education, the immigrants from Mexico and other countries may present competition for lower-skilled jobs, such as in meatpacking plants, or general labor in construction. Wages may dip for those people, Flores said. Immigration may also cut down the number of hours available to lower-skilled American-born workers.

But at the same time, having that lower-paid general labor makes it possible for higher-skilled workers, such as architects, electricians, plumbers and others, to make more money as the companies they work with grow, Flores said.

At the state and local levels, there are some negative impacts to immigration in the short run, Flores said. Schools may have to hire more English Language Learner teachers and other staff to help new immigrants, and more money may go into social services.

At the same time, at the national level, immigrants increase the pool of working-age people able to pay into Social Security and keep that system afloat. Not having those workers would also affect the Gross Domestic Output of the U.S., and economic growth. So at that level, immigrants are a plus, Flores said.

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And immigrants take on jobs that are unpleasant, he said.

If you look at the staff of a typical nursing home, you'll find that many of them are immigrants, he said. As are the worker rolls at meatpacking plants.

"Who will take care of our old? Who will work at meatpacking companies. What price are we willing to pay for that beef?" Flores asks

"Absent immigration, we'd be worrying about an aging workforce 15 years ago and the problem would be a lot bigger than it is," he said.

Immigration from Mexico is also dropping. Mexican woman have been having fewer children since the mid-1970s. The level now is just above that of American-born women.

The Great Recession of 2008 also cut immigration, there is more border enforcement, and the Mexican economy is doing better.

In terms of crime, the research finds that new immigrants commit few crimes, though more crimes are committed with increased Americanization, Flores said.

At the neighborhood level, research in traditional locales such as Texas, California and Florida has consistently shown that the presence of new Latino immigrants results in either a negligible or negative effect on crime, he said.

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And at the city level, research finds that metropolitan areas with a higher level of immigrants have significantly lower homicide rates, Flores said.

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Oscar Flores is a professor of economics at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He discussed the economic impact of immigration on the U.S. economy in a lecture Monday, Oct. 10, at MSUM. (Photo by Helmut Schmidt)

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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