Inside the Host

Kevin Lewis

August 21, 2020

How the Other Half Died: Immigration and Mortality in US Cities
Philipp Ager et al.
NBER Working Paper, July 2020


Fears of immigrants as a threat to public health have a long and sordid history. At the turn of the 20th century, when millions of immigrants crowded into dense American cities, contemporaries blamed the high urban mortality penalty on the newest arrivals. Nativist sentiments eventually led to the implementation of restrictive quota acts in the 1920s, substantially curtailing immigration. We capture the "missing immigrants" induced by the quotas to estimate the effect of immigration on mortality. We find that cities with more missing immigrants experienced sharp declines in deaths from infectious diseases from the mid-1920s until the late 1930s. The blame for these negative mortality effects lies not with the immigrants, but on the living conditions they endured. We show that mortality declines were largest in cities where immigrants resided in the most crowded and squalid conditions and where public health resources were stretched the thinnest. Though immigrants did die from infectious diseases at higher rates than the US-born, the mortality decline we find is primarily driven by crowding not changes in population composition or contagion, as we show mortality improvements for both US- and foreign-born populations in more quota-affected cities.

Who Competes with Whom? Using Occupation Characteristics to Estimate the Impact of Immigration on Native Wages
Jamie Sharpe & Christopher Bollinger
Labour Economics, forthcoming


Many studies have examined the impact of immigration on native-born wages. Some of these studies have relied upon education-experience groups to define labor markets and identify the wage elasticity with respect to immigrant labor supply. However, evidence suggests that immigrants’ educational attainment is treated differently in the labor market and constructing labor markets based upon this characteristic leads to potentially biased conclusions. We utilize O*NET occupational characteristics to form a different set of labor markets. Our analysis finds higher partial equilibrium effects on native wages than prior work using education-experience skill groups, as expected. These larger effects, however, are shown to be concentrated on the least skilled natives. Estimates of the total wage effect along the distribution of occupational skills confirm that the negative wage effect is concentrated on native workers in the bottom tail of the distribution. Natives in the upper tail of the distribution experience wage gains as a result of immigration. The distributional impact is likely due to the distribution of skills among recent immigrants.

The Impact of Immigration on Wages, Internal Migration, and Welfare
Suphanit Piyapromdee
Review of Economic Studies, forthcoming


This article studies the impact of immigration on wages, internal migration, and welfare. Using U.S. Census data, I estimate a spatial equilibrium model where labour differs by skill level, gender, and nativity. Workers are heterogeneous in city preferences. Cities vary in productivity levels, housing prices, and amenities. I use the estimated model to assess the distributional consequences of several immigration policies. The results show that a skill selective immigration policy leads to welfare gains for low skill workers, but welfare losses for high skill workers. The negative impacts are more substantial among the incumbent high skill immigrants. Internal migration mitigates the initial negative impacts, particularity in cities where housing supplies are inelastic. However, the negative wage impacts on some workers intensify. This is because an out-migration of workers of a given type may raise the local wages for workers of that type, while reducing the local wages of workers with complementary characteristics. Overall, there are substantial variations in the welfare effects of immigration across and within cities. Further, I use the model to assess the welfare effects of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S. The results show that the potential benefits are significantly smaller than the proposed cost of construction.

How Do Restrictions on High-Skilled Immigration Affect Offshoring? Evidence from the H-1B Program
Britta Glennon
NBER Working Paper, July 2020


Skilled immigration restrictions may have secondary consequences that have been largely overlooked in the immigration debate: multinational firms faced with visa constraints have an offshoring option, namely, hiring the labor they need at their foreign affiliates. If multinationals use this option, then restrictive migration policies are unlikely to have the desired effects of increasing employment of natives, but rather have the effect of offshoring jobs. Combining visa data and comprehensive data on US multinational firm activity, I find that restrictions on H-1B immigration caused foreign affiliate employment increases at the intensive and extensive margins, particularly in Canada, India, and China.

The effect of employer enrolment in E-Verify on low-skilled U.S. workers
Pia Orrenius & Madeline Zavodny
Applied Economics Letters, forthcoming


U.S. employers can check whether the workers they hire are legally eligible for employment using E-Verify, a free electronic system run by the federal government. We use confidential data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide the first examination of whether increases in employer enrolment in the E-Verify system affect employment and earnings among workers who are particularly likely to be unauthorized, namely Hispanic non-naturalized immigrants who have not completed high school, and their U.S.-citizen counterparts. We find evidence of negative effects on likely unauthorized immigrant men but positive effects on women. We find little evidence of effects on U.S. natives. These results are robust to instrumenting for endogenous employer enrolment with state laws that require some or all employers to use the E-Verify system. The results are consistent with a household model of labour supply among unauthorized immigrants.

Unauthorized Immigrants' Access to Driver's Licenses and Auto Insurance Coverage
Brandyn Churchill, Taylor Mackay & Bing Yang Tan
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming


Fourteen states and the District of Columbia allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Using variation in the timing and location of these policy changes, we show these Unauthorized Immigrant License Polices (UILPs) are associated with a 1% increase in both the number of licensed drivers and liability insurance coverage, although we do not document a statistically significant relationship with auto insurance claims. Nor do we detect a significant relationship between UILPs and the number of miles driven, vehicle registrations, air quality, or travel behaviors. Overall, our results are consistent with UILPs licensing unauthorized immigrants who were already driving.

Prosperous But Fearful of Falling: The Wealth Paradox, Collective Angst, and Opposition to Immigration
Jolanda Jetten, Frank Mols & Niklas Steffens
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Building on growing evidence that relative economic gratification may be associated with prejudice toward minorities, such as immigrants, the question remains when and why prosperity and wealth may enhance opposition to immigration. In a correlational study (Study 1, N = 498), we show that increased fear of falling in the future (individually or collectively) is associated with greater opposition to immigration. We then experimentally studied the effects of potential (Study 2, N = 294) and actual (Study 3, N = 166) downward mobility among the relatively wealthy, as well as of relatively stagnating wealthy in the context where an initially poorer group is quickly gaining wealth over time (Study 4, N = 151). We find that fear of falling among the wealthy is associated with more opposition to immigration, mediated by collective angst. We conclude that the anticipation that the economic future looks less rosy than the present evokes collective angst, which, in turn, fuels prejudice toward immigrants.

The Integration Paradox: Asian Immigrants in Australia and the United States
Van Tran, Fei Guo & Tiffany Huang
ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 2020, Pages 36-60


Whereas Australia has pursued a skills-based migration policy, the United States has privileged family-based migration. The key contrast between these migration regimes provides a rare test of how national immigration policy shapes immigrant selection and integration. Does a skills-based immigration regime result in a more select group of Asian immigrants in Australia compared to their counterparts in the United States? Are Asian immigrants more integrated into their host society in Australia compared to the United States? Focusing on four groups of Asian immigrants in both countries (Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, and Vietnamese), this article addresses these questions using a transpacific comparison. Despite Australia’s skills-based immigration policy, we find that Asian immigrants in Australia are less hyper-selected than their counterparts in the United States. Asian immigrants in Australia also report worse labor market outcomes than those in the United States, with the exception of Vietnamese - a refugee group. Altogether, these findings challenge the conventional wisdom that skills-based immigration policy not only results in more selected immigrants, but also positively influences their integration into the host society.

Disentangling Differences in Homicide Incarceration Rates by Immigration Status: A Comparison in Texas
Erin Orrick et al.
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming


Research addressing the purported relationship between immigration and crime remains popular, but some gaps remain under-explored. One important gap involves disentangling differences in crime and punishment by immigrant status, as measured across different definitions of immigration status and in relation to U.S. natives, at the individual level. Using data from Texas, results show that native-born U.S. citizens are incarcerated for homicide at higher rates than almost all immigrant groups. While the incarceration rate for undocumented immigrants was 24% greater than the rate for all foreign-citizens, this rate was significantly less than that for U.S. citizens. Among the immigrant status classifications available in this study, all were associated with lower incarceration rates for homicide than that of U.S. citizens.

Concerns About Automation and Negative Sentiment Toward Immigration
Monica Gamez-Djokic & Adam Waytz
Psychological Science, August 2020, Pages 987-1000


Across 12 studies (N = 31,581), we examined how concerns about the rise of automation may be associated with attitudes toward immigrants. Studies 1a to 1g used archival data ranging from 1986 to 2017 across both the United States and Europe to demonstrate a robust association between concerns about automation and more negative attitudes toward immigrants. Studies 2a, 2b, 2c, and 3 employed both correlational and experimental methods to demonstrate that people’s concerns about automation are linked to increased support for restrictive immigration policies. These studies show this association to be mediated by perceptions of both realistic and symbolic intergroup threat. Finally, Study 4 experimentally demonstrated that automation may lead to more discriminatory behavior toward immigrants in the context of layoffs. Together, these results suggest that concerns about automation correspond to perceptions of threat and competition with immigrants as well as consequent anti-immigration sentiment.

Social Learning along International Migrant Networks
Yuan Tian, Maria Esther Caballero & Brian Kovak
NBER Working Paper, August 2020


We document the transmission of social distancing practices from the United States to Mexico along migrant networks during the early 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Using data on pre-existing migrant connections between Mexican and U.S. locations and mobile-phone tracking data revealing social distancing behavior, we find larger declines in mobility in Mexican regions whose emigrants live in U.S. locations with stronger social distancing practices. We rule out confounding pre-trends and use a variety of controls and an instrumental variables strategy based on U.S. stay-at-home orders to rule out the potential influence of disease transmission and migrant sorting between similar locations. Given this evidence, we conclude that our findings represent the effect of information transmission between Mexican migrants living in the U.S. and residents of their home locations in Mexico. Our results demonstrate the importance of personal connections when policymakers seek to change fundamental social behaviors.

The Effect of Home Country Natural Disasters on the Academic Outcomes of Immigrant Students in New York City
Agustina Laurito
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming


This paper estimates the impact of home country natural disasters on the academic performance of immigrant students in New York City public schools. It provides credible evidence of these effects by exploiting the exogenous timing of natural disasters relative to testing dates in models with student fixed effects. Natural disasters in the home country lower immigrant students' test scores mostly in reading by 0.051 standard deviations and by 0.028 standard deviations in mathematics. This paper provides strong evidence that the home country is an important out-of-school factor shaping immigrant students' academic success and shows that children are affected by distal contexts in which they do not directly participate.

Anywhere they go, we go: Immigration inflow's impact on co‐ethnic natives in the U.S.
Tao Song & Huanan Xu
Southern Economic Journal, July 2020, Pages 191-215


Using data from the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses and the American Community Survey five‐year sample for 2006-2010, we examine the impacts of immigration inflows on the migration patterns of co‐ethnic natives in the United States. We explore whether the outcomes are driven by changes in labor market returns in the receiving cities or sociocultural benefits of being surrounded by co‐ethnics. We find that a higher ethnicity‐specific immigrant population share within a city increases the population share of both co‐ethnic natives who remain in the receiving cities and co‐ethnic natives who migrate into these cities, relative to natives of other ancestries. All baseline results survive robustness and falsification tests, and instrumental variable estimations. Through the heterogeneous effects, we find that the sociocultural benefits, such as language and ethnic goods that immigrants bring to receiving cities, are the potential channels that attract co‐ethnic natives to migrate towards those enclaves.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.