Ten Economic Facts about Immigration


Released: September 2010 • Strategy Paper

Related Topics: Global Economy


  • Adam LooneyPolicy Director, The Hamilton Project
  • Michael GreenstoneThe Milton Friedman Professor in Economics; Director, Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, University of Chicago

This policy memo explores some of the questions frequently raised around immigration in the United States and provides facts drawn from publicly available data sets and the academic literature. Most Americans agree that the current U.S. immigration system is flawed. Less clear, however, are the economic facts about immigration — the real effects that new immigrants have on wages, jobs, budgets, and the U.S. economy — facts that are essential to a constructive national debate. This memo paints a more nuanced portrait of American immigration than is portrayed in today’s debate. In particular, the following facts indicate that the U.S. immigrant population is far from a monolith; on the contrary, it includes several groups, each of which affects the U.S. economy in a different way.

1. Today’s Immigrants Hail From More Diverse Backgrounds Than They Did A Century Ago

2. Immigrants Bring A Diverse Set Of Skills And Educational Backgrounds

3. On Average, Immigrants Improve The Living Standards Of Americans

4. Immigrants Are Not A Net Drain On The Federal Government Budget

5. Both Immigration Enforcement Funding And The Number Of Unauthorized Immigrants Have Increased Since 2003

6. Immigrants Do Not Disproportionately Burden U.S. Correctional Facilities And Institutions

7. Recent Immigrants Reflect America’s Melting Pot

8. The Skill Composition Of U.S. Immigrants Differs From That Of Other Countries

9. Immigrants Start New Businesses And File Patents At Higher Rates Than U.S.-Born Citizens

10. America Is Issuing A Declining Number Of Visas For High-Skill Workers 

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