Employers and Immigrants: Response to Bryan Caplan
By David Henderson
First, the omission. Bryan writes:
David is right to point out heterogeneity:
“Bryan’s evidence is that ‘amnesty raises wages of formerly illegal workers.’ That could be true on average but it’s unlikely to be true in every case.”
But “true in every case” is an awfully demanding standard. How about “true for a significant number of illegal workers in the U.S. workers over the course of a year”? If David can point to any sizable group of illegal workers who have spurned free green cards because it hurts their prospects in the labor market, I’ll happily change my mind.
Bryan would be right to fault me for applying the demanding standard of his statement being true in every case. But here are the next sentences I wrote that he left out:
Specifically, if you’re an illegal worker already earning above the minimum, as the majority of illegal workers probably do, then your wage can increase when you become legal. But notice that because you were already earning above the minimum, the employer’s ability to pay you less than the minimum when you were illegal is irrelevant: your productivity caused him to pay more than the minimum. So illegality was not an advantage to you when you were illegal.
In other words, I had in mind a specific group of illegal workers who I think would have a reasonable probability of losing their jobs if there were amnesty. If they were just a little below the minimum wage, they could well be in good shape. But that small group who are well below the minimum wage could lose their jobs.
Second, Bryan has changed the subject. He writes:
If David can point to any sizable group of illegal workers who have spurned free green cards because it hurts their prospects in the labor market, I’ll happily change my mind.
Of course I can’t. Recall that the original discussion was about how employers would view illegal immigrants, not how immigrants would think or feel. Like Bryan, I can’t imagine many people spurning green cards. But because his original claim was about employers, that’s not the test. The test would be this: “Is it plausible that employers of illegal workers who are earning well below the minimum wage would be upset if those same workers got green cards?” I think it is.