The Effect of Immigration on Output Mix, Capital, and Productivity

Myriam Quispe-Agnoli and Madeline Zavodny
Economic Review, Vol. 87, No. 1, 2002

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The growing influx of immigrants into the United States has prompted concerns about potential negative effects on native workers, especially the less skilled. Such concerns have not been borne out by many studies of the effect of immigration on wages. However, the typical theoretical negative effect of immigration flows on wages may be offset by changes in other aspects of the economy, including output mix, productivity, and capital.

This article examines the relationship between immigration and three factors—output mix, labor productivity, and capital—in the skilled and unskilled sectors in the U.S. manufacturing sector at the state level. The authors develop a simple two-sector model of the effect of immigration on these three factors. The authors then test the model's predictions using data from the 1982 and 1992 Census of Manufactures and other sources.

The results indicate that immigration-induced changes in labor supply caused labor productivity in both the low- and high-skilled sectors to increase more slowly in states that attracted a larger share of immigrants during the 1980s than in other states. This slower growth may result from the gradual assimilation process many immigrants undergo as they acquire language skills and familiarity with U.S. institutions, the authors believe, and they call for further study of immigration's longer-term effects on productivity.

February 2002