Immigration comes at a devastating cost to Black Americans

By T. Willard Fair
Posted 4/20/22

 Congress continues to relentlessly push immigration policies that’ll make Black Americans poorer.

That’s not their stated goal, of course. But that’ll nevertheless be the …

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Immigration comes at a devastating cost to Black Americans

Posted

 Congress continues to relentlessly push immigration policies that’ll make Black Americans poorer.

That’s not their stated goal, of course. But that’ll nevertheless be the end result of their proposal to amnesty millions of illegal immigrants and boost the level of legal immigration. 

By many measures, the economic gap between Black and white workers has gotten worse in recent years. In 1970, for instance, Black men earned 59 percent as much as white men. By 2019, that figure had dipped to 56 percent. 

There is no single explanation for these racial disparities, of course. But decades of mass immigration have almost certainly made the problem worse.

Consider the years 1940 to 1980 — a period of comparatively lower immigration that generally led to tight labor markets. As immigration policy expert Roy Beck points out in his new book Back of the Hiring Line, Black men saw their real incomes increase four-fold during those decades. Black men’s earnings actually rose faster than white men.

During that same time period, the share of Black Americans who were considered “middle-class” exploded, growing from 22 percent to 71 percent.

But progress among Black workers leveled off starting around 1970, five years after Congress passed laws that significantly increased rates of immigration, from roughly 250,000 per year in the middle of the 20th century to over 1 million annually today.

Many immigrants are indeed hard-working and law-abiding, but the sheer number of newcomers entering the U.S. labor market year after year has created new economic barriers for less-skilled American workers — especially for Black Americans.

Indeed, as the supply of less-educated labor increased due to immigration, competition for jobs requiring a high school degree or less became much greater. And Black Americans suffered disproportionality. 

A 2006 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that the influx in immigration between 1980 and 2000 “reduced the wage of Black high school dropouts by 8.3 percent, reduced the employment rate by 7.4 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate by 1.7 percentage points.” 

Folks on the left used to find this disparate impact disturbing. President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers plainly warned that “immigration has increased the relative supply of less-educated labor and appears to have contributed to the increasing inequality of income.” 

But many of them either no longer realize that immigration has negative consequences — or no longer care. Many Black lawmakers in Congress are working to grant amnesty to over 6 million illegal aliens — a move that’d immediately increase labor market competition and encourage more people to come here illegally in the hopes of future amnesties.

It’s undeniable that mass immigration has come at a substantial cost to Black Americans. That doesn’t mean that immigrants don’t deserve our compassion, or that immigration is the sole cause of racial disparities in our nation.

It simply means that if we want to create a fairer economy, we can no longer ignore immigration’s unique contribution to racial inequality.

(T. Willard Fair is the President/C.E.O. of the Urban League of Greater Miami, Inc.)

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