Economic Analysis

Immigrants clustered on far ends of wage and skill spectrum, Card says
Immigrants clustered on far ends of wage and skill spectrum
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The American economy absorbs immigrant workers at the high and low ends of the labor market "because that's exactly where we have the hole" in worker supplies, economist David Card said Tuesday in an ILR lecture.

Many studies show immigrant workers have minimal wage and employment effects on native workers, he told an estimated 140 people in Ives Hall.

Card's lecture, "Immigration: Economics, Attitudes, and Policies," can been seen at

Sponsored by Cornell's Institute for the Advancement of Economics, the visit continues through Friday and is hosted by ILR's Department of Labor Economics.

Native-born computer scientists and biochemists are in short supply here, he said. So, foreign-born professionals fill the gap; 45 percent of workers with doctoral degrees under the age of 40 in the United States are from nations such as India and China.

At the other end of the wage spectrum, a similar phenomenon is occurring, said Card, whose research includes exploring how people think about immigration.

Demand for agricultural, child care and elder care workers has risen, while domestic supplies of workers to fill those niches declined, he said.

As a result, Mexicans and workers from other nations are attracted to the jobs which increasingly help middle-class American families raise their children and care for aged relatives, said Card, Class of 1950 Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although analysis shows little impact on wages by immigrants during the past 30 years, research shows that many natives are opposed to or highly ambivalent about immigration, he said.

Immigration policy views of most native-born people are not driven by economic impacts, but by concerns about social homogeneity in language, customs and other cultural factors, he said.

Fourteen percent of the population in the United States is comprised of immigrants, he said. In 1970, the figure was five percent.

Director of the Labor Studies Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Card received the coveted John Bates Clark Prize in 1995.

The prize is awarded by the American Economic Association every other year to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.

Card was a co-recipient of the IZA Prize in Labor Economics in 2006 and was awarded the Frisch Medal by the Econometric Society in 2007.

Card's visit included a seminar with Cornell faculty Monday and continues through the week with graduate student meetings and university faculty member meetings. More information is available by contacting Shelly Hall at

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