Teens and Immigrants

A CIS study notes the decline in summer employment among teens and blames it on immigration:

While this summer is shaping up as one of the worst ever for teen employment, a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) finds that American teenagers (16-19 years old) have been leaving the labor force for some time, starting long before the current recession. The findings show that competition with immigrants accounts for a significant share of the decline in teen employment. The decline is worrisome because a large body of research shows that those who do not hold a job as teenagers often fail to develop the work habits necessary to function in the labor market, creating significant negative consequence for them later in life.

Many of the states where immigrants are the largest share of workers are also those with the lowest teenage labor force participation, including California, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Florida, Hawaii, Texas, and Arizona.

Here’s more. The study is poorly reasoned. It suffers from the “lump of labor” fallacy, the fallacy that the number of jobs is somehow exogenously fixed. If that were true, of course, it would seem fairly inevitable that more jobs for immigrants would be fewer jobs for teenagers. But the number of jobs employers are willing to offer varies, depending on, among other things, the wage. Since the wage also affects the willingness of workers to work, so it can move to equilibrate supply and demand. Immigration might mean teenagers earn less, but it shouldn’t cause unemployment. It might cause some teenagers to leave the labor force because working isn’t worth their while. But if the point is just to develop “work habits” and put a line on their resumes, it hardly matters how low the wage is. Mom and Dad are feeding them anyway.

Ah– the immigration critic might reply– but you’ve forgotten the minimum wage! American teens can’t compete with more experienced and mature immigrants by offering their services for lower wages, because the minimum wage puts a floor under that kind of competition. So yes, we have a problem. Which solution seems more liberal, humane, just, etc.– (a) deport millions of foreigners, separating families, depriving people of their best opportunity to work for a better future, deprive businesses of their best workers, and so on, or (b) cut the minimum wage?

For more background reading about the effect of immigrants on the wages and employment opportunities of natives in the United States, see the US-specific suppression of wages of natives page on this website.

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

2 thoughts on “Teens and Immigrants”

  1. Who’s more deserving of our sympathy: an American youth, or someone who, through little fault of their own, is so poor that they are willing to risk oppression and death for the wage of $5 an hour? I wonder why this question doesn’t come up more. I would guess the answer makes many people in the developed world uncomfortable.

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