WE WANTED WORKERS by George J. Borjas


Unraveling the Immigration Narrative
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A counternarrative to the many misguided ideas about immigrants arriving in the United States.

The conventional wisdom that troubles award-winning economist Borjas (Economics and Social Policy/Harvard Kennedy School; Immigration Economics, 2014, etc.) states that immigrants should be seen solely as workers who fill jobs for which Americans are unqualified or uninterested in performing. As an immigrant from Fidel Castro–controlled Cuba who moved to the U.S. when he was 12, the author emphasizes the seemingly obvious notion that immigrants are more than just laborers: they are unique humans whose needs create an impact on schools, welfare resources, the environment, and electoral politics, among other areas of society. Furthermore, writes Borjas, immigration always produces winners and losers: a low-wage job accepted by an immigrant might enrich an employer or investor but might harm a fellow laborer previously earning more. The author believes a great deal of the research about the economics of immigration is mistaken due to flawed data collection, flawed data analysis, and political biases. Thankfully, Borjas takes a mostly measured approach to his field, which has become “perhaps the most divisive issue of our time.” He never castigates open immigration policies, advocating instead for politicians and bureaucrats throughout all levels of government to recognize costs as well as benefits. The author also refuses to accept the idea that many immigrants fare poorly in the U.S. because of racial or ethnic prejudices by employers. Instead, he says, some immigrants earn the lowest wages because they lack highly marketable skills. The lower-skilled immigrants do not simply fill jobs that American citizens shun, but often do the somewhat-desirable jobs at a prevailing wage below what citizens will accept.

Although the economic analyses may be obscure to some noneconomist readers, Borjas provides an intriguing, clearly written polemic.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-393-24901-9
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016


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