Employment of Undocumented Immigrants

Although there have been many attempts to regularize the status of the 11 million undocumented persons in the country, it is difficult to predict the economic impact of such regularization. The reason is simple: We know very little about the socioeconomic characteristics of undocumented persons.

I got curious about this a couple of years ago. The Pew Research Center has done a lot of work trying to impute an undocumented status variable for each individual in micro data such as the ACS and the CPS. They generously gave me access to some of their data and I’ve applied the method to the entire post-1994 CPS time series. My initial paper using these data looks at labor supply. One often hears that most undocumented immigrants come to the United States to work. It turns out that the claim is true, at least for men. Here is a summary of the key conclusions:

This paper provides a comprehensive empirical study of the labor supply behavior of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Using newly developed methods that attempt to identify undocumented status for foreign-born persons sampled in the Current Population Surveys, the empirical analysis documents a number of findings, including the fact that the work propensity of undocumented men is much larger than that of other groups in the population; that this gap has grown over the past two decades; and that the labor supply elasticity of undocumented men is very close to zero, suggesting that their labor supply is almost perfectly inelastic.

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