By Dallin Overstreet
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Has America run out of room for immigrants? This has become a key question in the recent surge of interest in immigration policy in the United States. Supporters of tighter restrictions on immigration use various arguments to answer this question, citing higher crime rates caused by immigration, negative effects of immigration on the economy, and low levels of availability of housing, food, and jobs. This study seeks to determine the validity of some of these arguments and to determine if the United States has run out of room for immigrants. We examine data ranging from 1960 to 2017, in hope of examining the effects that a relatively high rate of immigration has on the U.S. economy. We find that while immigration may have some negative effects in the United States, many of the arguments used by those who support tighter immigration restrictions are not backed by data. Immigration is not strongly correlated with a large portion of the negative effects many claim it to be. We also find that many of the resources and goods thought to be in short supply due to immigration are more widely available today than they were in 1960.
Has America run out of room for immigrants? This has become a key question in the recent surge of interest in immigration policy in the United States. Throughout the history of the U.S., many individuals in favor of immigration restrictions have claimed that there is not enough room for additional immigrants. With the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump in 2016, this argument is again resurfacing. According to these individuals, there is simply no room for more immigrants in the United States.
The veracity of this statement has not been researched thoroughly by those who claim it and those who dispute it. Both sides seem to repeat rhetoric and emotional arguments based on their philosophical and political leanings, while ignoring the evidence that could potentially back their claims. While some of the arguments on either side could be true, their arguments are usually not backed by data.
This study will seek to examine whether or not America has run out of room for immigrants. Using data collected from various government sources, we will be able to make a determination based on facts, not opinions and theories. We will examine past trends of immigration in the United States as well as trends in the number of police in the U.S., availability of housing, living space per capita, population density, labor force, availability of food in the U.S., and public health. Utilizing this data, we will bring credibility to some of the claims of those on both sides of the argument. We believe that for this claim to be true, the basic necessities of life that a human-needs to survive must be in short supply in the U.S., or that increased immigration would create large shortages of these essential goods. Thus, we should see from the data and past literature that necessary resources are in short supply or would be so negatively impacted by immigration that these resources would be insufficient for the U.S population. These resources include: a sufficiently staffed police force; housing (space to live); jobs; food; and public health. Otherwise, this claim will have no merit.
2. Patterns of Immigration
Immigration has had an interesting and colorful history in the United States. Since 1820, there have been at least four major phases of immigration to the U.S. from varying regions and countries (Martin, 2015). Each phase ushered in a new chapter of American history. U.S. culture and demographics dramatically changed due to the differing regions from which immigrants originated from. Without each of these four phases, the United States would not look or be the same country it is today.
From 1820 to 1880, the first major immigration phase, sometimes known as the Frontier Expansion, took place (Martin, 2015). Migrants during this phase were primarily from the Northern and Western European region. Immigrants from this group took enormous risks to travel to the United States and settle many new territories in the country. Many were pushed out of their home countries due to economic problems and wars. Others were pulled to the United States because of the political and religious freedom offered here. The economic opportunities available to immigrants were almost limitless as well, unlike anything in the migrants’ home countries.
From about 1880 to 1910, the Industrialization phase took place (Martin, 2015). Migrants in this phase primarily came from the Southern and Eastern European region. This phase had relatively high levels of immigration compared to the inflows before and after. Many of the push factors for this group of immigrants were the same as before, including lack of jobs and food, scarcity of land, religious persecution, as well as high population growth. As were the immigrants of the Frontier Expansion phase, immigrants of the Industrialization phase also were pulled to the United States because of the country’s freedom of religion, democracy, and economic opportunity.
After this massive influx of immigrants to the U.S., the Immigration Pause phase took place (Martin, 2015). From about 1910 to 1965, a dramatic decrease in immigration to the U.S. occurred. With the end of World War I, immigration was severely curtailed due to quota implementations by the Federal government. Not many years later, the Great Depression struck, further discouraging migrants to make the journey to the United States. To make things worse, anti-immigrant sentiment increased during this time frame. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan were revived and regained some power they once held. Stricter immigration restrictions were put in place, reflecting the national sentiment towards immigration at the time. During this phase, admitted immigrants were primarily from Western European countries, countries from which immigrants looked very similar to Americans at the time.
Soon after, the final Post-1965 Immigration phase began with immigrants rushing in from Asian and Latin American countries (Martin, 2015). Many of the same factors pushed immigrants to the U.S. from these third world countries. Government repression and intense poverty was rampant and still is in sending countries. Immigrants again are being pulled to the U.S. by the lure of economic opportunity and freedoms not enjoyed in their home countries. Since about 2010, the number of immigrants as a percentage of the U.S. population has risen to similar levels of that experienced in the first two waves of immigration. However, current sentiment towards immigrants in the U.S. may reverse that trend.
The U.S. may arguably be entering into a fifth wave of immigration. Anti-immigrant sentiment similar to that of the third wave of immigration has returned to public sentiment. Many have become wary of immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries. Many have claimed that the less-educated immigrants that Latin American countries are supplying the U.S. with drive down wages and steal jobs, among other accusations. They claim there is not enough room to support additional immigrants by referencing police shortages, housing shortages, living space shortages, high population density, food availability, and deteriorating public health. Much of these arguments are the same as were claimed during the last immigration pause.
3. Literature Review
But are these claims true? Is the U.S. running out of space for immigrants? This section will review what has been shown in past studies examining the effects that immigration can have on various aspects of the U.S. economy. We will take their conclusions and compare them with actual data that we have collected to test their hypotheses. By utilizing time series data, we will be able to observe how each variable has changed over time, along with changes in immigration to the United States. We will review past literature on immigration’s effect on crime, housing and living space availability, population density, open jobs, food availability, and public health.
3.1. Immigration and Crime
Many proponents of increasing regulations on immigration in the United States list increased crime rates as a justification for their belief. This belief goes back as the founding of the country. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin warned about the “destructive forces” of German immigrants, calling them “a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our language or customs any more than they can acquire our complexion” (Hernandez, n.d., p.9). Clearly, the United States has a long history of laying blame on immigrants for many problems that exist throughout the country.
However, the literature surrounding immigration’s effect on crime seems to have a more favorable view of immigration. Reid et al. (2005) conducted a study using 2000 US Census data and 2000 Uniform Crime Report data to determine how the foreign-born population affects criminal offenses across a sample of metropolitan areas. The researchers found that, on a macro level, increased immigration does not increase crime rates. The authors also concluded that some aspects of immigration could potentially decrease crime rates. Reid et al. (2005) also mentioned in their analysis that, on a more micro level, individual immigrants in the U.S. tend to engage in criminal activity less than native born residents in the U.S. This seems to contradict much of the sentiment currently present in the U.S. as well as similar sentiment that has existed since the foundation of our nation.
Another study by Tim Wadsworth (2010) supports the conclusions of Reid el al. (2005). Wadsworth concluded in his analysis that increased levels of immigration in the 1990s may have in part been responsible for the large drop in crime during that decade. The author found that cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the greatest decreases in homicide and robbery.
Many other studies exist finding similar results on the link between immigration and crime in the U.S. So how is it even possible that the notion that immigrants disproportionally participate in illegal activity started? A study by Hagan and Palloni (1999) examined some of the possibilities for this confusion. The authors found that biased or misrepresented government reports often skew the perception of U.S. citizens towards Hispanic immigrants. The majority of Hispanic immigrants who come to the U.S. as migrants are younger males in search of work. Given that young males in general are more likely to engage in criminal activity, it would make sense that there would exist some sort of positive correlation between immigration and crime rates. However, after controlling for this factor, Hagan and Palloni found that immigrants are less likely than the native born to engage in criminal activity.
3.2 Immigration and Housing/Space Shortages
Those in favor of tighter immigration restrictions also point to less housing and space available for immigrants. Logically, this argument would make a lot of sense. As more people continue to occupy any given space within a finite boundary, space would begin to dwindle. However, the United States has an exceedingly large amount of space under its control. In order for space to truly be sparse, an enormous influx of additional inhabitants would have to take place. New immigrants would also have to be extremely lazy and not a proactive people, the opposite of what much research has found, to not find jobs and pay for or build new homes for themselves.
Gonzalez and Ortega (2012) found that immigrants to Spain over the 10-year period between 2000 and 2010 were responsible for half of new home constructions during that same time period, which equated to a 1.2 to 1.5 percent increase in housing units in the country. Clearly, immigrants are not moving to new countries just hoping there are open homes waiting for them. The authors also found that immigrants were responsible for a quarter of the increase in housing prices, which equated to about a 2 percent increase across the country’s housing market. Based on this study, immigrants create positive effects on the housing market. They not only occupy existing empty housing units, they also create new units for themselves, further developing the communities they move into.
However, there is some evidence that immigrants experience issues with residential overcrowding. Burr et al. (2010) conducted a study on foreign-born Hispanic immigrants and found that one-third of older Hispanic immigrants in metropolitan areas live in crowded housing compared with one-tenth of older non-Hispanic native residents. The researchers found that the more assimilated the immigrants were into their new community’s culture, the less likely they were to live in crowded residences. This means that immigrants, specifically Hispanic immigrants, on average take up less residential space than their native-born counterparts. For whatever the reason is, be it financial or cultural, and regardless of the effects, some groups of immigrants tend to take up less space than native-born U.S. citizens.
3.3 Immigration and Population Density
When looking to population densities of other countries and comparing them to the U.S., there is really no argument to be made against immigration. Countries that are of similar size to the United States, like China, are immensely more populated. India and Mexico also have considerably higher population densities than the United States. While these countries may not be as advanced economically as the United States, their economies are not suffering from too much population. Kelley and Schmidt (1995) found that population growth and economic growth were positively correlated, meaning that increased immigration could result in greater economic growth. This can lead to innovation and more creative ways to structure and design the communities into which the immigrants move.
To add to this benefit, many economists have pointed to the need for increased immigration to offset the falling fertility rates in the U.S. Lee and Miller (2000) concluded that rising immigration to the U.S. could help avert the future solvency issues that programs like Social Security will face. With the retirements of much of the Baby Boomer generation, these social insurance programs will face a huge strain. By increasing immigration to the U.S., new and younger workers will enter the workforce and begin contributing to the program, thus extending the solvency of the program. An uptick in the population density would inherently be a positive for the U.S., regardless of the population that is causing it.
3.4 Immigration and the Labor Market
There exists troves of newspaper articles, scholarly work, and opinions on how immigration effects the U.S. domestic labor market. A main component justifying the belief that immigration should be further restricted is the belief that immigrants steal jobs from native-born workers. While in some cases this may be true, especially at the lower end of the skill-level spectrum, for the most part native-born workers do not compete directly with foreign-born workers (Chomsky, 2018).
Much of the scholarly work on this topic has shown that immigrants complement rather than compete with native workers. Zavodny (2011) found that immigrants with advanced degrees, especially in the STEM fields, can have dramatically positive effects on employment for native workers. Zavodny found that an additional 100 immigrants with advanced STEM degrees on average produced 262 additional jobs for native workers over the 2000 to 2007 time period. The researcher also found that states with greater numbers of H-1B (skilled) and H-2B (unskilled) temporary workers, the higher employment was among US natives. Zavodny found that adding 100 H-1B workers and 100 H-2B workers resulted in an additional 183 and 464 jobs, respectively. This tells a dramatically different narrative than that told by immigration restrictionists.
Another study conducted by D’Amuri and Peri (2014) found more positive effects of immigration on the native labor force. The authors studied the effects of immigration in Europe before and during the Great Recession. They found that, although some immigrants did compete with lower-skilled native workers, immigrants pushed natives towards more complex jobs. The job “promotion” was associated with a 0.7% increase in native wages. Even more, the researchers found that the number of complex jobs that became available for native workers outweighed the number of less complex jobs that were lost due to immigration.
Many of the individuals in favor of increased restrictions on immigration may still have issue with illegal immigrants living in the United States. But the literature on the effect that illegal immigrants have on the economy are relatively similar, according to Nadadur (2009). Although other fiscal considerations need to be accounted for, like healthcare and education that illegal immigrants could potentially receive for free, these immigrants are a net positive on the U.S. economy as well. These immigrants tend to fall much further on the low-skilled labor spectrum, filling agricultural jobs and other employment opportunities that are similar. Illegal immigrants most likely compete even less with native workers, filling positions that relatively few Americans find themselves employed in.
3.5 Immigration, Food Availability, and Public Health
The increase of immigrants present in the U.S. could theoretically cause shortages of food for U.S. residents. However, there is not much data or scholarly debate on whether or not increased levels of immigration actually causes these theoretical shortages. Rather than immigration causing shortages, the scholarly work shows that immigrants can be pushed to migrate because of food shortages in their home countries. Chapman (1975) argued that a major push factor experienced by illegal immigrants present in the U.S. was food insecurity in an immigrant’s home country. Rather than causing shortages, immigrants tend to be escaping from shortages. This area has not been researched thoroughly, and our data will provide new insights on this topic.
A similar belief that immigration restrictionists hold is that immigrants carry dangerous diseases with them from their home countries. According to this belief, immigrants must be carefully screened so that diseases are not introduced in the United States that are detrimental to public health. However, much of the research in this area is not supportive of this argument. Markel and Stern (2002) explored why immigrants throughout history have been stigmatized as sick and disease-carrying people. Throughout the course of U.S. history, immigrants have been discriminated against based on this argument. Markel and Stern point out that this belief has persisted despite huge advancements in medical diagnosis and care.
Another study by Fairchild (2004) points out that immigrants, especially low-skilled and illegal immigrants, tend to work in industries and jobs that offer little to no health or medical benefits. This could cause perfectly healthy immigrants to suffer from a lack of proper medical care, thus fueling the stigma even further. This has led many that feel some degree of anti-immigrant sentiment to believe the ideas that immigrants are dangerous and inadequately fed, as well as dangers to the public health.
The data that we have collected was pulled from various governmental agencies and departments, as well as public policy research think tanks. These include: the Department of Justice; the Migration Policy Institute; the Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Federal Reserve Economic Data website; the U.S. Census; the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the World Bank.
This study will conduct a correlational analysis utilizing this data. We will compare immigration trends to the U.S. to the trends of the several variables mentioned before, which include: crime; housing and living space availability; population density; the labor market; food availability; and public health. We will not be attempting to establish causality when analyzing this data. Rather, if the claims that the United States is full and can no longer accept new immigrants are true, then we should see clear correlations causing negative effects between immigration and each of these variables. Immigration should be causing each of these variables to be strained and severely depleted for the claims that the U.S. can no longer accept immigrants to be proven true.
Fortunately, data for most of the variables we have included in the analysis were available dating back prior to the most recent surge of immigration, references before as the Post-1965 Immigration phase. This time period is key to the analysis. By using statistics that were measured when immigration was at a relative low point in U.S. history and comparing it to current data, we should be able to make a strong argument for or against the claim that the United States can no longer support more immigrants.
This section will examine the results of our analysis. Due to the several variables we have analyzed, we will break down the results by variable and explain the relationship they have with immigration in the U.S. over this time period.
5.1 Immigration and Crime
The data for the U.S. crime rate show an increase in crime from 1.89% in 1960 to 5.95% in 1980. After a short decrease and another increase between 1980 to 1991, the U.S. crime rate steadily declines back to the levels experienced in 1960. During this same time period, the number of newly naturalized immigrants steadily increased. In 1960, the number of newly naturalized immigrants for the year was 265,398. In 1980, this number had risen to 524,295. However, unlike the U.S. crime rate from 1980 to 2017, immigration continued to increase during this time period. Each subsequent year experienced higher levels of newly naturalized immigrants than 1980, showing a clear negative correlation between immigration and crime during this time period. Figure 1 in the Appendix shows these trends. The correlation coefficient between newly naturalized immigrants and the crime rate from 1960 to 2017 was 0.17. From 1980 to 2017 however, the correlation coefficient between the two was -0.32. In 2017, the number of newly naturalized immigrants in the U.S. was 1,127,167.
When comparing historical crime rates and the percentage of the U.S. population that are immigrants, similar relationships were found. In about 1970, the percentage of the U.S population that were immigrants bottomed out at around 5%. But since then, this rate has increased continually up to about 14% in 2017. As was shown before, crime rates since 1991 have fallen dramatically. This finding shows that there is not a strong positive correlation between crime rates and the percentage of the U.S. population that are immigrants. Figure 2 in the Appendix shows this relationship. The correlation coefficient from 1960 to 2017 between crime rates and the percentage of the U.S. population that are immigrants was -0.14. Between 1991 to 2017, this coefficient was -0.99, showing an almost perfectly negative correlation between the two variables.
The number of police per 1,000 inhabitants has also increased since 1960. In 1960, there were about 1.9 police employees per 1,000 inhabitants. This number increased to about 2.8 police employees per 1,000 inhabitants in 2017, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (2018). While this study is only a correlational study, the fact that the number of police employees per 1,000 inhabitants has increased over time could be a cause for as to why the crime rate decreased over this same time period. However, a majority of the drop in crime came after 1991 and was not a constant decline in crime from 1960 to 2017.
5.2 Immigration and Housing/Space Shortages
The data for housing rentals and ownership also seems to show a strong relationship with immigration. The rental vacancy rate has fluctuated over time since 1960, with an average vacancy rate of about 7.4% and a standard deviation of about 1.5 percentage points. The rental vacancy rate has also had a slight upward trend over this time period, due in part to a spike around the time of the Great Recession. During this same time period, newly naturalized immigrants and the immigrant percentage of the population have also had generally increasing trends. In 2017, the rental vacancy rate was 7.2%, just 0.2 percentage points lower than the average from 1960 to 2017. Figure 3 in the Appendix show these trends.
The correlation coefficient between newly naturalized immigrants and the rental vacancy rate from 1960 to 2017 was 0.47, showing a positive correlation between the two variables. The relationship between the percentage of the U.S. population that is immigrant and the rental vacancy rate was stronger, with a correlation coefficient of 0.66. After accounting for the years that most probably affected by the Great Recession, these coefficients fell to 0.34 and 0.55, respectively. This means that as immigration has increased from 1960 to 2017, so has the rental vacancy rate.
The homeowner vacancy rate showed similar trends to the rental vacancy rate. Figure 4 in the Appendix shows these trends. The homeowner vacancy rate was at its lowest in the 1970s at about 1% and peaked in 2008 at 2.9%. The average homeowner vacancy rate from 1960 to 2017 was 1.6% with a standard deviation of 0.4 percentage points. Even without the Financial Crisis of 2008, it appears as though the homeowner vacancy rate was experiencing a positive upward trend after 1978. In 2017, the homeowner vacancy rate was 1.6%, exactly the average over the 67 year time span. As was said before, newly naturalized immigrants and the immigrant percentage of the population increased over this same time period.
The correlation coefficient for newly naturalized immigrants and the homeowner vacancy rate was 0.65 over this time period. The correlation coefficient for the immigrant percentage of the U.S. population and the homeowner vacancy rate was 0.77. Even after adjusting for the increase in vacancy rate that probably occurred due to the Great Recession, the correlation coefficients stayed nearly the same. Clearly, a strong positive relationship existed over this time period between these variables.
5.3 Population Density
Population density is a factor that was examined to determine where the United States stands relative to other nations. The United States has a population density of about 35 inhabitants per square kilometer, with about 329 million inhabitants and 9.3 million square kilometers of space. Based on the data that was collected for 2019, the United States ranks in at the 174th most densely populated countries of the 232 countries included in the data. Figure 5 in the Appendix shows this.
While the United States may rank in at number 3 in the world in terms of population, it also ranks in at number 4 in terms of its size, measured in square kilometers. This allows the United States to maintain a relatively low population density despite having such a large population. India and China, the two countries that rank higher than the U.S. in terms of population, are the 28th and 80th most densely populated countries in the world despite their similarly large areas. Figure 6 in the Appendix shows these relationships.
Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan ranked 4th, 23rd, and 36th in terms of population density, respectively. Each of these countries are generally regarded as economic power houses of Asia with high levels of GDP per capita as well as decent standards of living. This would suggest that there is no strong negative correlation between population density and GDP per capita. A strong positive correlation between the two variables is an argument used by many of those that oppose higher levels of immigration to the U.S.
However, the data supports just the opposite of what anti-immigrant sentiment argues. After accounting for outliers in the data for both population density and GDP per capita, a small but positive correlation between the two variables. However, the coefficient was statistically insignificant. Figure 7 in the Appendix shows this relationship. This suggests that high levels of population density need not necessitate lower levels of GDP per capita.
Other data regarding the floor space of homes were analyzed. In the decade that began in 1960, the average floor space per home (single-family, multi-family, manufactured) was 1,690 feet. Since then, the average floor space has been higher, peaking in the 1990s at 1,944 feet, and then falling back to 1,828 in the 2000s. During this time, the U.S. population continued to increase and population density continued to push higher. The average floor space per house does not seem to be slowing down despite increases in population.
5.4 Immigration and the Labor Market
An interesting relationship seems to exist between the labor force participation rate and immigration levels to the U.S. in the data. If immigrants were to be stealing jobs from native born workers without producing any new jobs themselves, we would observe a steady rise in the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign born while observing a fairly constant or decreasing labor force participation rate. However, this is not what we observe in the data. The data show a clear positive increase in the labor force participation rate, the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign born, and newly naturalized immigrants from 1960 to about 2007. In 1960, the labor force participation rate was at about 59.7 percent. By 2007, this had risen to 66 percent, a 6.3 percentage point increase. The Great Recession began at about this time. It is well known that the labor force participation rate fell sharply and has still not recovered around this time. Figure 8 in the Appendix shows these statistics.
Immigration was strongly correlated with the labor force participation rate from 1960 to 2017. The correlation coefficient between the labor force participation rate and newly naturalized immigrants over this time period was 0.66. The correlation coefficient between the labor force participation rate and immigrant percentage of the population was 0.59. From 1960 to 2007, the year before the Great Recession, these correlation coefficients were 0.75 and 0.83, respectively. It appears that the labor force participation rate and immigration are strongly and positively correlated. The only significant decrease in the labor force participation rate was caused by the Great Recession and is still being addressed to this day.
5.5 Immigration, Food Availability, and Public Health
The data on food availability and public health show positive correlations with immigration. The data shows that as the immigrant percentage of the U.S. population has increased since 1960, so has the availability of flour and cereal, fruits and vegetables, and meat food products. These three food groups were highly correlated with the immigrant percentage of the U.S. population with coefficients of 0.83, 0.62, and 0.63, respectively. Dairy was correlated much less with the immigrant percentage of the population with a correlation coefficient of 0.26. However, this coefficient is still not negative.
Figure 9 shows the availability of each of these food groups. The availability of each food group has been normalized so as to easily compare the various categories. Each of these types of foods have become more widely available for purchase since 1960, except for dairy. However, the 30 pounds per capita decrease in dairy availability does not seem like such a substantial difference.
With respect to public health and immigration, data on life expectancy was analyzed. In 1960, life expectancy was 69.7 years. By 2017, this number had risen to 78.6, roughly a 9 year increase in life expectancy. At the same time, the immigrant percentage of the U.S. population rose from 5.4 percent to 13.7 percent. The correlation coefficient between these two variables over this time period was 0.94, showing a strong positive correlation between immigration and life expectancy. Figure 10 shows this relationship.
The types of diseases or accidents that cause the greatest number of deaths has also changed over time. From 1900 to 1949, the top five causes of death in order in the U.S. were: influenza and pneumonia; tuberculosis; diarrhea/enteritis/ulcerative colitis; heart disease; and stroke. From 1950 to 1999, the top five causes of death in order were: heart disease; cancer; vascular lesions; accidents; and diseases of infancy. From 2000 to 2019, the top five causes of death in order were: heart disease; cancer; stroke; chronic respiratory disease; and accidents. An interesting comparison can be made when examining the top five causes of death of the first time period and comparing them with those of the following two periods. The top three causes of death from 1900 to 1949 are easily transmittable diseases, while none of the top five causes of death from the other periods are transmittable diseases, save possibly the broad category of diseases of infancy. This could be due to improvements in vaccinations and public health in general, all while immigrants continued to make up a greater share of the U.S. population.
While this study is merely a correlational analysis not attempting to establish causality, many interesting conclusions can be drawn from our findings. While many of those in favor of stricter immigration policies cite issues in each of these areas being caused by immigration, the data says otherwise. For any of these categories, be it crime, housing, population density, the labor market, or food availability and public health, immigration seems to have a favorable correlation with it. It was shown that none of these goods or services have been pushed into short supply from 1960 to 2017, a time that has experienced a renewed surge of immigration to the United States. If the United States truly were out of room or running out of room for new immigrants, we would see it in the data. Obviously, there are no disfavorable correlations present in the data presented and none of these variables are running low, even though immigration levels are near all-time highs.
Crime clearly was not positively correlated with immigration. With such a massive drop off in the crime rate after 1990 while immigration continued to increase, large increases in crime clearly cannot be attributed to immigration. The United States was nearly at the same crime rate as 1960 in 2017 after a total of over 42 million newly naturalized immigrants were established in the United States. These findings fall in line with research cited prior in this paper by Reid et al. (2005) and Tim Wadsworth (2010). It certainly could be possible that the large influx of immigrants over this time period could in part explain the large drop in crime in the U.S.
If it were to be proven in future research that immigrants are indeed responsible for an increase in crime rates, we have shown that the number of police employees per 1,000 inhabitants has increased from 1960 to 2017. With about one more police employee per 1,000 inhabitants in 2017 than in 1960, U.S. natives would surely be better protected from “unruly” foreign-born migrants. This increase in police officers could also explain in part the sharp decrease in crime in the United States in the 1990s.
The housing and rental vacancy rates were also positively correlated with immigration over this time period of relatively high immigration. The data goes against the opinion that there are not enough rentals or living spaces for new immigrants in America. It seems fairly obvious that there are open housing units for additional immigrants in the United States. With roughly similar housing and rental vacancy rates in 2017 as in 1960, after 42 million immigrants became U.S. citizens, it seems that the housing market has no problem adjusting to meet the increase in demand for a place to live. Rejecting additional immigrants due to a belief in not having enough housing units is not based on data.
These findings could also support the conclusions Gonzalez and Ortega (2012) made when observing the relationship between immigrants and new home constructions in Spain. With immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries, favoring labor intensive jobs like construction and farming, it would not be a stretch to conclude that the surge in immigration provided cheap labor to build additional housing units. This could help to explain why rental vacancy rates and homeowner vacancy rates increased over this time period. However, more research would need to be done to establish this connection.
The population density of the United States does not appear to be an issue when it comes to accepting more immigrants. Ranking in at the 174th most densely populated country while having the 3rd most inhabitants demonstrates the enormous amount of space still available in the United States. There certainly is space for towns and cities to grow to accommodate additional residents.
The belief that more densely populated countries are more likely to be poor countries seems to be false as well, or there is more to the story than a simple cause and effect relationship. Our data show a small and statistically insignificant positive correlation between per capita GDP and population density, after accounting for large outliers. There does not seem to be a strong relationship between the two variables. Pushes against immigration due to a belief that an increased population density will cause the economy to falter do not seem to be based on data.
On top of these findings regarding population density, it appears that home sizes have been growing since the 1960s. If immigration did cause problems with available living space, certainly the data would show a contraction in home sizes during this time period. However, it seems that there was no issue with available living space from 1960 to 2017, a period that experienced a huge surge in immigration and population. The average floor space per house grew about 200 square feet over this time period. Living space is not in short supply in the U.S. currently and immigration does not seem to be causing significant shortages either.
The labor market does not seem to be as negatively affected by immigration as many believe. While this analysis is not able to identify the small micro effects that immigration has on the labor market and native workers, we were able to see that the labor force participation rate increased at the same time as immigration over this time period. While immigration certainly can displace some workers, it appears that as a whole immigration could provide the U.S. economy with a fresh supply of new workers.
From the data we analyzed, this fresh supply of new workers need not be seen as replacements for native workers, although in some cases immigrants may compete with native workers. Rather, an increase in immigrants provides native workers and employers with new opportunities for growth. Increases in immigration could also supply employers with new workers that are more willing to work than their native counterparts. The data shows exactly that, an increase in the labor force participation rate as the percentage of the population that is immigrant increases.
Food availability and public health do not seem to be a concern, either. All but one of the types of foods we gathered data on had a large increase in availability from 1960 to 2017. While immigration was relatively high compared to U.S. history, food availability was not in short supply, nor is it currently in short supply. This shows that markets were able to adapt to meet the increased demand for food in the U.S. over this time period. It also shows that if similar or even larger scales of immigration to the U.S. were to take place, the markets would more than likely be able to adapt to support the increased population.
Public health does not seem to be at risk by increased immigration levels. The average lifespan of Americans increased by about 9 years from 1960 to 2017. While this is a crude measure of public health, it demonstrates that immigrants are most likely not spreading highly contagious and dangerous diseases, as is believed by many in the United States. The top five causes of death have also changed over time. Highly contagious diseases made up a majority of the top five causes from 1900 to 1949, while not one contagious disease made the top five from 2000 to 2017. If the belief that immigrants bring highly infectious and dangerous diseases with them were true, we should have seen a large increase in infectious diseases over this time period. Clearly, the data does not support this belief.
As was stated before, this study only seeks to establish correlations between immigration and various variables of interest, as well as examine the absolute availability of various goods in the U.S. Due to the nature of this study, no causal effects can be drawn from our analysis. Causal relationships between immigration levels and our other variables of interest cannot be taken from this analysis.
The data we collected was also collected at a very high or macro level, and only represents correlations and amounts in the United States. Due to the nature of our data, we are unable to make claims or prediction at a detailed or person-by-person basis. We are unable to make claims about immigrants and their behaviors from their different countries of origin. There certainly are differences between immigrants from Asia and immigrants from Latin America, but this study did not attempt to distinguish between them. These claims may not hold in other countries around the world, either.
However, many interesting correlations and non-correlations have been detected in the data between immigration and our other variables of interest. While we may not have established causality, these findings are helpful in disproving some basic assumptions about immigrants that clearly are false. Our findings show that immigrants are not causing large scale problems in the U.S. as many seem to believe.
Many of the claims and arguments used to discourage and restrict immigration clearly do not hold up when data is examined. The correlational evidence we have compiled in this paper should dispel many of the beliefs held by those who would restrict immigration. We have also shown that many resources needed by immigrants and U.S. citizens alike are not in low supply and have become more widely available since 1960, despite the large influx of immigrants that took place since then. Politicians and government representatives wishing to place further restrictions on immigration should take these findings to heart and evaluate whether their policies will achieve what they are intended to achieve.
Immigration is not causing large increases in crime and could be responsible in part for a reduction in crime over the last 40 years. Concerns about sufficient housing for immigrants are not supported by the data, as there are obviously sufficient numbers of vacancies available. Population density was also shown to not be strongly correlated with GDP per capita, helping to dispel the idea that an increased population would hurt the U.S. economy. Living space per house was also shown to have increased since 1960, even with a much higher population density driven in part by immigration. Labor markets have not been adversely affected during this time period of high immigration and may have been positively affected by the large influx of immigrants who are willing to work at higher rates than their native counterparts. Food availability and public health also were shown to not be real causes of concern. The availability of food has increased substantially since 1960, when immigration was at a relative low point in U.S. history. The average lifespan of an American has also increased substantially since 1960, with the top five causes of death being non-contagious diseases or accidents. Earlier in the 1900s, this was not the case as spreadable diseases caused many deaths.
Policies that are being implemented to reduce immigration to the U.S. based on the before-mentioned beliefs are not based on evidence. We have shown that immigration is not causing large and widespread problems in the U.S. and may even be responsible for many positive outcomes in the U.S. economy. Policy makers should examine the evidence before placing restrictions on immigrants wishing to settle down in the United States.
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Dallin Overstreet is a Senior Policy Analyst at the American Freedom Institute