Saturday, April 17, 2010

Skill type and attitudes towards immigration in the US

Anti-immigration sentiment in the United States is usually based on views towards low-skilled immigrants. However, an article in NYT suggests that more immigrants may now be high-skilled.

According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs. 

Among American cities, St. Louis is not an exception, the data show. In 14 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York and San Francisco, more immigrants are employed in white-collar occupations than in lower-wage work like construction, manufacturing or cleaning.

The data belie a common perception in the nation’s hard-fought debate over immigration — articulated by lawmakers, pundits and advocates on all sides of the issue — that the surge in immigration in the last two decades has overwhelmed the United States with low-wage foreign laborers.

Over all, the analysis showed, the 25 million immigrants who live in the country’s largest metropolitan areas (about two-thirds of all immigrants in the country) are nearly evenly distributed across the job and income spectrum.
In addition, Hainmueller and Hiscox (2010) find that American's, regardless of skill level, strongly prefer high-skilled immigrants over low-skilled labor. Perhaps this will mitigate US decision maker's fear of pursuing a more accommodative immigration policy. (emphasis mine)
Past research has emphasized two critical economic concerns that appear to generate anti-immigrant sentiment among native citizens: concerns about labor market competition and concerns about the fiscal burden on public services. We provide direct tests of both models of attitude formation using an original survey experiment embedded in a nationwide U.S. survey. The labor market competition model predicts that natives will be most opposed to immigrants who have skill levels similar to their own. We find instead that both low-skilled and highly skilled natives strongly prefer highly skilled immigrants over low-skilled immigrants, and this preference is not decreasing in natives' skill levels. The fiscal burden model anticipates that rich natives oppose low-skilled immigration more than poor natives, and that this gap is larger in states with greater fiscal exposure (in terms of immigrant access to public services). We find instead that rich and poor natives are equally opposed to low-skilled immigration in general. In states with high fiscal exposure, poor (rich) natives are more (less) opposed to low-skilled immigration than they are elsewhere. This indicates that concerns among poor natives about constraints on welfare benefits as a result of immigration are more relevant than concerns among the rich about increased taxes. Overall the results suggest that economic self-interest, at least as currently theorized, does not explain voter attitudes toward immigration. The results are consistent with alternative arguments emphasizing noneconomic concerns associated with ethnocentrism or sociotropic considerations about how the local economy as a whole may be affected by immigration.

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