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White House relies on 'theory,' 'academic literature' to argue immigration move won't hurt U.S. workers

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Despite its decision to give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to work in the United States, the Obama administration is insisting that its plan will have "no effect" on employment for U.S. citizens.

It reached that conclusion by relying on "theory" and "academic literature," which it said indicates that adding thousands or even millions of people to the workforce just won't matter.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 10.15.41 AM Officials under President Barack Obama say his executive action on immigration won't affect U.S. jobs or wages.
Image: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

Republicans have said the administration's executive action on immigration would make it harder for millions of U.S. citizens to find work, or to command a decent wage. Over the last few weeks, many Republicans have leaned on the law of supply and demand to show that the White House's plans would be disastrous for millions of Americans who are still facing economic hardship.

But an 24-page analysis from the Council of Economic Advisers dismissed the idea entirely, and the millions of illegal immigrants who could qualify for work authorization will have "no impact" at all on the U.S. employment situation.

"Theory suggests that these policy changes would not have an effect on the long-run employment (or unemployment rate)," it said. "Consistent with the theory, much of the academic literature suggests that changes in immigration policy have no effect on the likelihood of employment for native workers."

It said research on the 1986 immigration reform law "found little evidence of significant changes in labor force participation or employment status."

"Therefore, in our lower-bound estimate, we assume no impact of deferred action on labor force participation," it said. In a summer section at the top of the analysis, it said the CEA sees "no impact on the likelihood of employment for U.S.-born workers."

The CEA's analysis seemed to be based on the idea that work authorization would only be temporary for these millions of potential workers. The White House action gives them a chance at a three-year work authorization, and CEA said that based on the "academic literature," it "does not estimate large changes in the labor force as a result of this component of the new actions on immigration."

CEA also seemed to be arguing that there will be little disruption to the U.S. workforce because the White House action gives legal status for people already inside the country, and won't expand the workforce further with new immigrants. Based on that argument, CEA said it only expects about 300,000 new immigrants to be allowed in under the White House order, over the next 10 years.

But the analysis contradicted itself somewhat on whether allowing millions of illegal immigrants to work legally will matter for U.S. citizens. While it saw no threat to U.S. workers, it said the executive action will boost U.S. productivity, in part because it will let illegal immigrants seek out jobs that fit their skill sets.

It said these workers would have greater job mobility, which implies some of this mobility could come at the expense of some U.S. workers.

While Republicans have also said U.S. wages would be hurt by the the decision to legalize illegal workers, the CEA said wages would rise for U.S.-born workers. However, it said wages would be just 0.3 percent higher in 2024 — a very small increase that is likely inaccurate given the accuracy of predictions 10 years out, let alone just a few years out.

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