I think it was Mark Twain who said “It isn’t what you don’t know that hurts you–it’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.”
Political debate these days is awash with “facts” that “just ain’t so.” One of those “facts” is that immigrants take jobs from Americans, and that raising the number of foreign-born people we allow to enter the country legally each year would worsen unemployment. A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute tells a very different story.
The Institute looked at incorporation figures and determined that immigrants own 18% of all small businesses in the U.S. In other words, more than one in six small businesses is owned by an immigrant. Those businesses employ an estimated 4.7 million workers, and generate some $776 billion dollars in revenue.
That immigrants gravitate to ownership shouldn’t surprise us. You have to be a risk taker to leave the place of your birth and move to a foreign country. Anti-immigrant attitudes make it more difficult for educated and skilled immigrants to find management and professional positions with American-owned firms. So, disproportionately, immigrants start their own small businesses, and small businesses are far and away the largest generators of employment. Small businesses–not massive corporations–are the real “job creators.”
The notion that immigration slows job growth is rooted in a “zero sum” worldview, the belief that the economy is like a pie. In that view, there is a fixed amount of pie, and if you get a bigger slice, mine will be smaller–if an immigrant gets a job, that’s one job fewer for Americans.
The virtue of capitalism is that it encourages people to bake more pie. And that is precisely what immigrants are doing.
Somehow, I doubt that this evidence will make much difference to those who want to raise the gangplank and keep those “others” out. What we know that “just ain’t so” keeps getting in the way of acting in our own best interests.