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Borjas, Wages, And Immigration: The Complete Story

by Bryan Caplan

George Borjas is the source of the widely-quoted factoid that immigration has reduced the wages of low-skilled natives by 8%. So I was quite surprised to discover the following table when I was flipping through Borjas' labor textbook:
Short Run Long Run
All native workers
High school dropouts
High school graduates
Some college
College graduates

The -8% is right there in bold. What is striking are all the numbers that didn't become factoids, but should have:

1. The long-run effect on all native wages is zero. Immigration has enabled millions to live vastly better lives with no long-run effect on average wages.

2. The long-run negative effect on native high school drop-outs is roughly half the short-run effect.

3. The long-run wage losers from immigration are native dropouts and college grads. Native workers in the middle of the skill distribution actually gain.

And this is what passes in economics for pessimistic estimates of the effect of immigration.

Originally published as "Borjas, Wages, and Immigration: The Complete Story" by Bryan Caplan on March 16, 2007 at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Reprinted by permission of Liberty Fund, Inc. [added Ed. 12/18/07]

About The Author

Bryan Caplan is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. His webpage,, features both his academic research and his numerous other interests, including the online Museum of Communism. Liberty Fund is a private educational foundation dedicated to increased knowledge of a society of free and responsible individuals

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.