The Financial Flipside Podcast, Episode 13: The Economics of Immigration

The human consequences of the current administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy have been inescapable during this summer’s news cycle. Each day seems to bring with it new stories of parents separated from children, inhumane conditions in detention centers, and the stripping away of previously installed protections for asylum seekers and early childhood arrivals in the United States. As people, we found these stories impossible to ignore. As a show about how finance and economics interact with the rest of our lives, we thought it important to spend some time thinking about the economics of immigration. Specifically, why does so much of the rhetoric about immigration in the US revolve around money and labor? What do the numbers say? What are the effects of framing discussions about immigration in economic terms? Are there alternatives to this sort of thinking, and what might they be? We do not pretend to offer definitive answers or policy fixes, but we hope that this episode leads you to your own fruitful discussions.

If you want to talk to us about any of the many topics discussed in this episode, you can find us on Twitter or Instagram (@financeflipside) or send us an email: [email protected].

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A correction: Switzerland held a referendum about introducing universal basic income in 2016, but it was rejected. At least part of the right-wing opposition to the measure centered on immigrant access to basic income payments.


Mentioned on the show:

The height of deportations in the US? 2012, when 34,000 people were deported each month

The (big) business of immigration enforcement

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and more about the act’s history

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which put a premium on skilled labor and family reunification

2017 Immigration statistics from the American Immigration Council , a nonprofit that bills itself as  “powerful voice in promoting laws, policies, and attitudes that honor our proud history as a nation of immigrants.” It’s worth noting that The Center for Immigration Studies, a “non-partisan, non-profit, research organization” that seeks to “provid[e] immigration policymakers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States.” presents its own set of statistics (2016) that frame immigration in a much less favorable light. This is perhaps in keeping with its tagline, “low-immigration, pro-immigrant” and with its almost exclusively partisan testimonials.

On the sort of work done by immigrants to the US

Federal taxes paid by immigrant households (2014)

State and local taxes paid by undocumented immigrants (2014)

DACA recipients’ tax contributions (2016)

Immigrant impacts on native employment rates in the US

Immigration’s impact on native wages in the US

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines free movement as a human right.

While many arguments for open borders are accompanied by critiques of capitalism, there are some capitalist arguments for free movement as well.

How some Indigenous people in the US and Canada are responding to the current administration’s policies

Universal Basic Income is already being trialled in Stockton, CA.

Give People Money, a recent book by economics writer Annie Lowery, argues that universal basic income has the potential to transform society as we know it.

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