Saturday, August 4, 2012

Immigration And Labor Market Complementarity

I've seen this picture being posted on Facebook, and it has some mild personal relevance to things that happened in my family.  Liang Chow took a job as a gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa in 1990, and became a US citizen twelve years later.  My dad came to the University of Iowa in the 1970s to do a Ph.D in chemistry, brought my mom along, and now both of them are US citizens.

Our immigration system is set up in a way that lets us legally get Liang Chow and my parents into the country -- he's a high-profile athlete and coach, and my dad had a scholarship.  But there's basically no legal path into the country for lots of poor hard-working folks whose talents we could really use.  They aren't going to take glamorous jobs in Olympic gymnastics that give rise to inspirational photos -- they're just going to pick fruit, wash your dishes at the restaurant, and send some money home so their kids will have enough to eat when things get tough.  But their talents may be complementary to those of native-born Americans just as the talents of the two people in the picture are.  If you're able to pick more fruit and wash more dishes, you can start more restaurants and that means hiring more waiters. That's labor market complementarity, and it's a good thing for native-born workers as well as the incoming immigrants.
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