On March 14, 2012, AAUW Chapel Hill celebrated Women’s History Month with a luncheon fundraiser at The Carolina Club. Dr. Ted Mouw, Ph.D., Associate Professor from the UNC Department of Sociology, spoke on the topic “Do Immigrants Displace Native Workers: Results of Longitudinal Studies.”
Summary of Dr. Ted Mouw’s Talk on the Impact of Immigration on Native Workers
The focus of the talk was on the economic impact of immigration on native workers. Dr. Ted Mouw pointed out that there are equally important social and cultural impacts on both immigrants themselves and the host society which can only be determined through in-depth face to face interviews.
He noted there is an important distinction which must be made between immigrant workers who substitute for native workers and immigrants who complement native workers. The former displace native workers whereas the latter enter jobs unwanted by native workers or for which native workers are unqualified. One example of complementation is that many highly educated immigrants enter the country legally to take STEM jobs. A second example is at the opposite end of the economic spectrum: many poorly educated immigrants fill unskilled, low wage, positions in agriculture and construction.
Dr. Mouw discussed several theories which have been advanced to explain the various economic impacts of immigration. He emphasized that: (1) much immigration involves complementation rather than displacement; (2) even workers who are displaced may not experience long-term unemployment or a decline in wages.
In order to assess the extent to which displacement leads to unemployment and/or lower wages for native workers, Dr. Mouw relied upon a special data set known as LEHD, short for Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics. This data set includes personal information and the quarterly wages of millions of individual workers in 30 states during the years between 1990 and 2008. Ted focused on the experiences of native workers in those industries which have experienced sharp increases in the percentage of immigrant workers. He is still analyzing the data, but he reached two tentative conclusions. First, displaced native workers experience no prolonged unemployment during the first year of their displacement nor afterwards. Second, wages of displaced native workers decline modestly during the first year after displacement but rebound by the second and subsequent years.
When he was asked about the chances of passage of a new immigration policy, Dr. Mouw pointed out that there is no real policy now. Moreover, given the emotions raised historically and contemporaneously by immigration, there is unlikely to be one in the near future. He observed that there is a de facto policy. That policy involves (1) anti-immigration groups and politicians ranting and raving about the evils of immigration; (2) not doing much to stem the flow of immigrants because the benefits of immigration for natives (especially employers) are so huge and the consequences of trying to get rid of 14 million illegal immigrants are politically unacceptable.
- Jean Green, Programs Vice President