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CROSSING THE LINE

The fence and your pocketbook

A House-passed bill contains a provision to build a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration. Current asked five experts how prices, wages and taxpayers would be affected by a closed border.

January 15, 2006|Swati Pandey

David Card,

Professor of economics, UC Berkeley

"Within a couple of years, there would be upward pressure on wages, definitely in agriculture and in such informal jobs as landscaping and day care, and in some restaurant businesses.... Massive [immigrant] inflows ... over the last 15 to 20 years really haven't pushed down wages, so it's hard to argue that [stopping the migration] would lead to a significant increase."

James P. Smith,

Senior economist, Rand Corp.

"Immigration of low-skilled workers, legal and illegal, reduced wages of native-born high school dropouts by 5% over 20 years. Because illegal immigrants are only a small factor in pricing, the effect of fewer of them on prices would be even smaller.... [According to a 1997 National Research Council study], native-born households in California paid $1,200 more in taxes than they received in benefits because of immigration. It's the reverse for immigrants, because they have kids who go to school.... About 25% of the immigrants in California are undocumented, so if all were proportional, the taxpayer cost per year would be about one-quarter of $1,200, or $200 to $500."

Dowell Myers,

Director, Population Dynamics Research Group, USC

"If you cut off that supply of workers, you would lose the lowest-wage workers. Most illegal immigrants aren't farmworkers anymore -- they're all in services. So the average homeowner would most directly feel the effects in lawn mowing and other domestic services."

Philip Martin,

Professor and chairman, Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, UC Davis

"In 1966, the United Farm Workers won a 40% wage increase for table-grape harvesters largely because bracero workers [temporary employees allowed to enter the U.S. according to a U.S.-Mexican agreement] were unavailable. Average farmworker earnings were $8.83 an hour for U.S. field and livestock workers in 2005; a 40% increase would raise them $3.53, to $12.35. For a typical household that spends $370 a year on fruits and vegetables [according to a 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics report], that 40% increase would translate into a 2% to 3% rise in retail prices, or $9."

Enrico Marcelli,

Assistant professor of economics and public policy, University of Massachusetts, Boston

"An increase of 10% in the unauthorized Latino immigration in Los Angeles County between 1985 and 1990 resulted in a 1.3% increase in hourly wages of relatively highly skilled workers -- officials and administrators. For intermediary- level workers -- construction traders, cashiers, farm operators, mechanics -- the estimated increase was 2.6%. In occupations where you would expect to find a lot of unauthorized immigrants -- household jobs, laborers, cleaning, building, food service -- their presence had no statistically significant effect on wages."

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