Hard to Estimate Costs of Undocumented Immigrants

Florida’s Undocumented Immigrants

What is  the cost of undocumented immigration? That question comes up frequently in debates among political candidates, and friends and foes. It is hard to quantify because despite the blah, blah, blah, few state or local governments track it.

But Pew Research Center published some data, reported in the Wall Street Journal this week,  that begins to fill in some blanks. Pew showed that between 2007 and 2012 Florida lost about 12 percent of its undocumented immigrants, fourth on the list of states that were most impacted. Florida was grouped with California (12.5 percent) and Illinois (13.6 percent).

Number one on the list was Arizona, a state whose public policies have become inhospitable to undocumented immigrants, at a whopping 40 percent. Conversely, Texas actually gained undocumented immigrants in that period, up 6.5 percent.

That undocumented and documented immigrants have left the country is not new. Pew Research previously published data indicating that more Mexicans in particular are leaving than arriving in the U.S.

The Journal article argues that as undocumented immigrants leave some costs go down, such as government spending on health care and education for their citizen children. And fewer undocumented immigrants helped redistribute income from employers, who typically pay these immigrant workers less, to non immigrant employees, whose wages increased as labor shortages took their toll.

However, investment rating firm Moody’s did an analysis concluding that U.S. natives and documented Hispanics filled less than 10 percent of the jobs once held by the undocumented.

As the undocumented population shrank, local economies were hit since fewer people were around to buy consumer goods and services. As a result, Moody’s estimated that Arizona’s economy fell 2 percent per year between 2008 and 2015. That is a lot.

None of this really changes arguments pro and con undocumented immigration, placing us back where we started, and strongly demonstrating there is no one definitive answer to this question for people who want an easy fix to this complex subject.

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