Feb 27, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's immigration silver lining

This is. Joe biden

President Biden exits Marine One at the Wall Street landing zone today in New York. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Immigrants are coming to the rescue of employers struggling with a historically tight labor market, and their arrival helps lower inflation.

The big picture: Foreign-born workers now constitute nearly 19% of the labor force, up from 17.3% when President Biden took office.

  • The recent surge in unauthorized migrants is a key factor in the 1.7 million more workers expected in 2024, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis.
  • Those new arrivals will help the U.S. economy grow by about $7 trillion over the next decade.

Zoom in: More than 3 million migrants are still in the country who were encountered at the southern border during the Biden presidency.

  • An additional one million arrived via ports of entry through new Biden programs relying on the expansive use of parole — a legal mechanism that allows migrants without visas to enter the U.S.
  • An additional 3.7 million people have entered the U.S. through other legal pathways, with the ability to work, according to administration estimates.
  • Some of those new arrivals are captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which counts an additional 3 million foreign-born workers in the workforce under Biden.

Between the lines: Don't expect Biden to race to the podium to highlight the link between increased immigration and lower inflation, according to aides and advisers.

  • When officials do discuss the economic benefits of immigration, they always add an important qualifier: it's legal immigration that they're referring to.
  • Press senior officials on the relationship between illegal immigration and inflation, and they suggest it's too small to measure.

Most economists, including Fed Chair Jay Powell, believe that immigration helps to lower inflation.

  • "It is unquestionable that the expanse of immigration has been important to bringing inflation down," said Betsey Stevenson, a former economist in President Obama's Labor Department who is now at the University of Michigan.
  • Other economists think the effect is marginal. "Mathematically, the effect of recent immigration on prices must be very small," said Steven A. Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which argues for lower immigration.

The other side: With about 80% of Americans saying the U.S. government is doing a bad job handling the crisis, the Biden campaign is bracing for immigration to take center stage in the 2024 election.

  • Former President Trump clearly wants to run on the issue, arguing that the influx of low-skilled immigrants into the economy has hurt native-born workers.
  • "The biggest victims are African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans," Trump said at a rally in South Carolina earlier this month. "They're getting decimated in their hourly wages."

Reality check: Wage growth has been the strongest for the bottom quarter of workers, according to the Atlanta Fed's wage tracker.

Go deeper