Effects of Low-Skilled Immigration on U.S. Natives: Evidence from Hurricane Mitch
immigration; rising inequality; skilled premium; employment structure; natural experiments
Starting in the 1980s, the composition of immigrants to the U.S. shifted towards less-skilled workers. Around this time, real wages and employment of younger and less-educated U.S. workers fell. Some believe that recent shifts in immigration may be partly responsible for the bad fortunes of unskilled workers in the U.S. On the other hand, low-skilled immigrants may complement relatively skilled natives. OLS estimates using Census data show that wages and employment are positively related to immigrant Latin American shares by state and year. However, these estimates are likely to be biased if immigrants move towards regions where there is high demand for their skills. An IV strategy, which exploits a large influx of Central American immigrants towards U.S. Southern ports of entry after Hurricane Mitch and who were quickly legalized, generates positive wage effects for College and High School-educated native men and women and earlier Latin American immigrant men but not for less-educated workers. These results are robust to controls for outmigration by earlier immigrants in response to recent Latin American immigration, suggesting that low-skilled immigrants complement high-skilled natives. We also find some evidence of negative employment effects on less educated natives when we control for potential out-migration, suggesting that recent immigrants may also substitute for less-skilled natives.