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Immigration continues to be the subject of intense national debate. The more than one million immigrants arriving each year have a very significant effect on many areas of American life. The latest data collected by the Census Bureau show that the last decade was the highest in terms of immigrant arrivals in American history. New immigration plus births to immigrants added more than 22 million people to the U.S. population in the last decade, equal to 80 percent of total population growth. Immigrants and their young children (under 18) now account for more than one in five public school students, one-fourth of those in poverty, and nearly one-third of those without health insurance, creating enormous challenges for the nation’s schools, health care system, and physical infrastructure. The large share of immigrants who arrive as adults with relatively few years of schooling is the primary reason so many live in poverty, use welfare programs, or lack health insurance, not their legal status or an unwillingness to work.
Despite the fact that a large share of immigrants have few years of schooling and low incomes, most immigrants do work. In fact, the share of immigrant men holding a job is higher than that of native-born men. Moreover, the evidence examined in this report and other research makes clear that immigrants make significant progress the longer they reside in the United States. This is even true for the least educated. Unfortunately, this progress still leaves them well behind natives in most measures of socio-economic status even after they have been in the United States for decades. The share of adult immigrants who have lived in the United States for 20 years who are still in poverty or lacking health insurance is at least 50 percent higher than for adult natives. And the share of these long-time resident immigrant households using at least one welfare program is nearly twice that of native households.
At the same time that immigration policy has significantly increased the number of less-educated immigrants, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the labor market position of less-educated natives. Comparing data from the beginning of this decade shows a huge decline in the share of young and less-educated natives holding a job — from two-thirds to just under half. The decline in work among young and less-educated natives began well before the Great Recession. It is very difficult to find any evidence of a shortage of less-educated workers in the United States. Some may argue that immigrants only do jobs that Americans do not want, but an analysis by occupations shows that the vast majority of workers in almost every job are U.S.-born, including three-fourths of janitors and two-thirds of construction laborers and meat processors.
A central question for immigration policy is: Should we continue to allow in so many people with little education — increasing potential job competition for the poorest American workers and the population in need of government assistance? Setting aside the lower socio‑economic status of immigrants, no nation has ever attempted to incorporate 40 million newcomers into its society. Those concerned about population growth point to added sprawl, traffic, pollution, and overall impact on the quality of life that may come from causing so much population growth from one government policy — immigration. Supporters of population growth point to the greater opportunities for businesses, workers, and consumers that it may create. However one approaches population increase, it is clear that immigration has become the determinant factor in U.S. population growth. It is equally clear that while immigration makes the U.S. population much larger, it does not make the population significantly younger.
Whatever one’s view of immigration, it is critically important to understand that its effect on America represents a choice. Selection criteria can be altered, as can the total number of people allowed into the country legally. Moreover, the level of resources devoted to reducing illegal immigration can also be reduced or increased.
The goal of this paper has been to provide information about the impact of immigration on American society to better inform the policy discussion about what kind of immigration policy should be adopted in the future. Absent a change in policy, 12 to 15 million additional legal and illegal immigrants will likely settle in the United States in just the next 10 years. Thus, immigration’s impact will continue to grow if current trends continue.
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The effects that immigration has on the United States are limitless. There have been endless debates over these effects since as early as the colonial times. The economic, fiscal and demographic effects are three major topics that tend to rule these debates. Based on both positive and negative effects immigration has on the economical, fiscal, and demographic sides of the United States, one can conclude that immigration is good, but should be limited.
The effect of immigration on the economy is a major topic discussed among much of the nation. It is said to have both positive and negative effects that cancel each other out. Many agree that immigration brings a gain to the economy. James Smith gives an explanation of how the immigrants increase the economy, yet still may have negative effects for some people:
At the most basic level, immigrants increase the supply of labor and help produce new goods and services. But since they are paid less than the total value of these new goods and services, domestic workers as a group must gain. On the production side, immigration allows domestic workers to be used more productively, specializing in producing goods at which they are relatively more efficient. Specialization in consumption also yields gain. Even when the economy as a whole gains, however, there may be losers as well as gainers among different groups of United States residents. (4)
Some argue that while immigrants help the growth of the United States economy, the effect is very small. According to David Lagesse, a recent study says immigrants contribute as much as $10 billion in economic growth each year, largely because they help keep prices lower. But the effect is small on a United States economy that produces nearly $8 trillion (1). It has also been argued that the poverty rate of the United States has been negatively effected by immigration. Peter Brimelow agrees, saying, because many immigrants are relatively unskilled, their poverty rate is significantly higher at 18 percent, compared to the 12.1 percent poverty rate for the native-born (11).
Immigrant workers also play a role in the economy. There has been a debate within the last few years involving the computer industry and immigrants. Many companies feel that there are not enough skilled people in the United States to fill the demand for computer programmers. They also argue that these companies do not give Americans the chance to work in these positions, and are unwilling to retrain older programmers. They want only people trained with the latest computer skills, and look to foreigners to fill these demands. Roy Beck explains that industry officials counter that American programmers often don t have the specific skill needed for a new task and that companies like to be able to scout the whole world for somebody who can step right in and do the job (141). Beck also argues that for other businesses, the preference for foreign workers is no accident; they are looking for people who will work for less money and put up with worse working conditions (142). Only in areas with high concentrations of low-skilled, low-paid immigrants are state and local taxpayers paying more on average to support the publicly funded services that these immigrants use (Lagesse). While the immigration of workers does have its downside, it mainly has a positive effect:
The benefits of immigration however are manifold. Immigrants are highly entrepreneurial. Their rate of business start-ups and self employment tend to be higher than that of United States born citizens. Immigrants contribute to the global competitiveness of US corporations, particularly in high technology industries. Perhaps the most important benefit is that immigrants come to the United States with critically needed talents, energies that serve as an engine for economic progress (Kposowa 78).
The benefits and downfalls of the immigration workers both play a big part in today s debate over immigration. It is clear that each side of the debate has both good and bad points.
A second aspect of immigration that has been debated is the fiscal effect of immigration on the United States. The fiscal effects of immigration vary widely, causing it to be another no-win debate. According to Smith, the difference between taxes from households of immigrants, and the cost of government services for that household help measure the fiscal results of immigration (8). The fiscal impact is different at each level. Normally, the fiscal impact is positive at the federal level, and negative at the state level. Because the negative state impacts are concentrated in the few states that receive the majority of immigrants, some states experience fiscal burdens from immigrants (Smith 12). The age of the children of immigrants plays a role in the fiscal impacts of immigrant households. Households headed by immigrants include the native-born school-age children of immigrants, who incur high costs of public education, but do not include the native-born children of immigrants, who have a positive fiscal impact. For this reason, current fiscal impacts estimated for immigrant-headed households are biased towards negative numbers (Smith 352). The long-term fiscal contributions that immigrants make, however, will vary depending on such factors as education and age of arrival to the United States. Immigrants with higher levels of education will pay more taxes in the long term because they have higher incomes. But immigrants who don't have high school educations and those who are age 50 or older on arrival may receive more benefits than they pay in taxes (Lagesse).
The fiscal impacts of immigration are obviously very dependent on several different factors, and hard to classify as either good or bad.
The Demographics of the United States is a third point commonly discussed in the debate over immigration. With the continuation of immigration to the United States comes higher populations and changing of the percentage of different races within each city. This major change has caused major controversy within these cities. Immigrants are starting to settle in more and more states than before, and taking some towns by surprise. Some greet them with open arms, and welcome a new culture into their area. Others feel invaded and fight the sudden increase in population and race differences within their area. The sudden change in population within these cities has formed a need for bilingual teachers, policemen, and general servicemen (Bustos 1). While some see this as a threat, it can also be viewed as a positive step towards bringing down the boundaries between culture, race, and countries.
One can see that limited immigration is good based on the good and bad results immigration has on the economical, fiscal, and demographic positions of the United States. The positive and negative effects that immigration in general and workers have on the economy cancel each other out. Many factors influence the United States fiscal situation, including age, causing the federal fiscal level to generally be positive, while the state level is normally negative. The fact that so many factors influence the fiscal situation proves that one can never determine whether immigration has a good or bad effect on the United States. The increase in population caused by immigration is also causing both good and bad problems in the United States, causing some people to feel threatened, while others feel a sense of togetherness. Without immigration the United States would not be what it is today. Almost everything in life has both good and bad qualities, but with a little regulation and control they can turn out to be positive. Immigration is one of those instances in life where with a little regulation immigration can be a great push towards a better future.