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Study: High-skilled immigrants decrease poverty  

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Economist Giovanni Peri has found that an influx of immigrants doesn’t increase the poverty rate by depressing the wages of low-income, native-born Americans and can actually decrease poverty when higher-skilled immigrants enter the workforce.

Peri, a professor at the University of California-Davis, looked at the economic impact of immigration in the United States on wages, then examined whether there was any correlation with the rise in U.S. poverty from 2000-2009. Here are his findings in a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research:

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Protesters against Arizona's immigration enforcement law.

There is essentially no effect of immigration on native poverty at the national level. At the local level, only considering the most extreme estimates and only in some localities, we find non-trivial effects of immigration on poverty. In general, however, even the local effects of immigration bear very little correlation with the observed changes in poverty rates and they explain a negligible fraction of them.

What’s more, Peri found that immigration during the 2000s actually reduced poverty among immigrants, because many of the new arrivals during this time were highly skilled immigrants, many of them college-educated. As a result, Peri writes, their impact was “actually positive for wages of less educated individuals and, in general, poverty-reducing even across large immigration states and metropolitan areas.”

Peri’s latest study confirms his earlier findings that immigration increases employment and wages among native-born Americans in the long term. That said, during times of recession, Peri points out that “there is evidence of modest negative impacts on employment and average income in the short run” due to immigration, as the labor market isn’t as flexible. So it’s worth noting that Peri’s latest paper only examines immigration up until 2009, the beginning of the economic downturn.

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