Donald Trump claims he'll ban immigration to reduce unemployment, but that's not actually what happens when immigration is reduced.
This week, in typical Donald Trump fashion, the president tweeted that he was planning to “ban immigration” to help get the U.S. back on track. His tweet was revered by some and slated by others, but without the details of this supposed ban, it’s impossible to understand whether it can help.
And yes, it can help–but maybe not in the way Trump and his supporters are insinuating.
Two types of Trump supporters are cheering the president’s immigration Tweet. The first are those who believe that immigrants have caused the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. They think that by keeping immigrants out, Trump is protecting them from further risk of infection.
That’s not only ridiculous, but it’s categorically false. It appears that migrants trying to enter the U.S. from South America are getting infected with coronavirus while being detained. Then, they are sent back to their home countries, where healthcare is limited, bringing coronavirus with them.
The second group of Trump supporters promoting his immigration ban are marginally more intelligent. They point to sky-high unemployment figures as a good reason to cut off immigration. After all, there are millions of Americans looking for work and adding more job seekers to the mix will make finding one much harder.
That rationale sounds simple, but research shows it’s actually not true. A high number of immigrants doesn’t make it harder for unemployed Americans to find a job.
A study by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College showed that the number of immigrants in the labor force didn’t hurt Americans’ chances of getting a job:
Our evidence suggests that immigration has no effect on the availability of jobs for unemployed citizens
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that having an influx of immigrants is good for American workers.
Under normal circumstances, an immigrant influx is bad for unskilled workers with a high school diploma or less. That’s because a large portion of immigrants are also unskilled and are willing to work for less money. That brings wages down and disproportionately hurts low-skilled U.S. workers—not because they can’t get a job, but because they’re paid less.
For example, census data show that someone without a high school diploma has seen their yearly income fall by between $800 and $1,500 each year. That’s because the number of unskilled immigrants with comparable education entering the U.S. over the past few decades has increased the workforce among that population by about 25%.
Unfortunately for those cheering on Trump’s ban, this is not a normal circumstance. While it’s true that fewer immigrants mean higher wages for unskilled workers, it also means companies can’t afford to hire a ton of people back.
The coronavirus has decimated U.S. businesses and will likely send many of them into bankruptcy. By cutting down on immigration, we’re talking about boosting the cost of labor as well. That will further strain U.S. firms’ finances and make them even more selective about hiring.
The bottom line? A ‘ban on immigration’ isn’t the answer to unemployment. It doesn’t guarantee more jobs for Americans—in fact, it could even do the opposite as companies struggle with higher labor costs. That’s not to say that tighter immigration policies wouldn’t help Americans down the line, but it’s not going to shorten the unemployment line as Trump supporters think it will.