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“So they were forced, essentially, to hire African Americans.”

author Published by Jeremy Beck

"They say 'no Americans want to do this, and so we need immigrants. What they mean is no Americans will do it at the wages that we'll pay immigrants." - Sir Angus Deaton, 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics

Sir Angus Deaton, author of Economics in America – An Immigrant Economist Explores The Land of Inequality (Princeton University Press), made something of a splash in economic circles when he announced his evolving views on immigration’s impact on inequality. He expanded on those thoughts in a conversation with fellow Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.

Here are three takeaways.

#1 Immigration contributes to inequality.

Deaton asks us to compare two graphs. The first is a rather famous graph from Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty that charts inequality in the United States.

The second is graph of the percentage of foreign-born in the U.S.

Foreign born in the United States reached new records highs in 2024 in both numbers (51.4 million) and percentage (15.5% of the population).
Immigration and Inequality (33:43 – 35:05)
"It's sort of like economists think that if you have more of anything, you increase supply, its price will go down, except when we're talking about people. And economists have a hard time admitting that when it comes to immigrants, that immigrants might lower the wage." - Sir Angus Deaton, 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics
#2 Immigration restrictions reduce inequality.

Deaton cites an historical example familiar to the NumbersUSA community: Immigration restrictions in the mid-20th century changed the course of history for American freedmen and descendants of slaves.

The Great Migration may not have happened without immigration restrictions (35:13 – 36:05)

“Immigration restriction brought up some of the worst treated people in America,” Deaton tells the audience, “and really changed their lives in a really, really positive way.”

Juliana Kaplan of Business Insider says Deaton explains how “factory workers in Chicago and elsewhere would’ve been happy to hire cheap European immigrants if it were an option — but that wasn’t possible anymore, leading instead to Black Americans getting hired.”

“That really changed the world in a way,” Deaton told Kaplan, “and that may not have happened had we had a much more permissive immigration policy.”

Let’s change the world again.

100 years ago: Bipartisan support for transformative immigration reform. Doesn’t that sound nice? It was the Immigration Act of 1924 that “really changed the world,” by essentially forcing employers to hire Black Americans.

Andre Barnes: “Let’s talk about it.”

Randolph’s birthday was also this week, on April 15th.

Take Action: Congress Can Honor Civil Rights Legend with H.R. 2 and H.R. 7833.

A key supporter of the 1924 law was labor and civil rights icon A. Philip Randolph. Randolph believed the path to social equality started with economic fairness. After the immigration restrictions went into place, he used the tight labor market to establish the first Black labor union in the United States. As Black economic power grew, Randolph conceived of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to secure historic wins for the Double Victory campaign: integration in the military and in government defense factories. He was chair of the more famous 1963 March on Washington (which adopted his original idea), where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”

#3 (Were you waiting for it?) People who say “jobs Americans won’t do” should be…yelled at?

The quote at the top of this article is all you need. But Deaton takes it a step further and says people who engage in that kind of rhetoric should be “discarded and yelled at.” I think he was joking about that last part! You be the judge.

Deaton on “Jobs Americans Won’t Do” (38:46 – 39:17).

Inspired to Act? Visit your Action board.

Explore More: “An Economist Changes His Mind: Immigration Does Contribute to Inequality“; Hiring Line Initiative; Economic Challenges; ReEnvisioning Immigration.

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