Needed But Not Wanted

9/29/2016 - Professor of Economics Giovanni Peri in the Economist.

Immigration of low-skilled workers has become an increasingly contentious political issue in both America and Britain. Voters in host countries often see a sudden influx of people from places with lower wages, poorer working conditions and a less generous welfare system as a threat to their livelihoods and living standards. In America the debate is about whether migrants hold down the wages of native workers. In Britain the main concern is that migrants put additional pressure on housing, public health services, schools and transport systems.

Until quite recently the academic literature treated migrants as substitutes for native workers. But what if they were complements; if low-skilled migrants helped to boost the productivity of low-skilled natives? Gianmarco Ottaviano, of the University of Bologna, and Giovanni Peri, of the University of California, Davis, find that for workers with at least a high-school qualification, the wage effects of low-skill immigration are positive if you drop the assumption that workers of the same age and education are perfect substitutes and that workers of one skill level, say cooks, do not affect the productivity of workers at other skill levels, say waiters or restaurant managers. The effect on the wages of high-school dropouts is only mildly negative.

Read the full story in the Economist.

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