Impact of out-migration of undocumented workers from Arizona

Arizona’s very restrictive law on employment of undocumented workers went into effect on January 1, 2008. What’s been the impact of the Legal Arizona Workers Act on the job market? One research team says that the removal of many undocumented workers lowered all low skilled employment, but raised earnings of low skilled native Americans. The Wall Street Journal says that wages in pertinent jobs have gone up.

The law is described here. Its most powerful provision was to penalize employers for failing to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to determine work eligibility. In-state employers using E-Verify went from 300 in March 2007 to 38,000 in January 2010.

The law’s impact on employment is obscured by the Recession and population increase. Employment in January 2008 was about 2.9 million; went down by 2011 to 2.75 million; then rose in January 2016, 3.75 million, reflecting recovery from the recession plus substantial in-migration from other states.

The Pew Research Center reported that between 2007 and 2012, Arizona’s population of undocumented workers dropped by 40%; 90,000 of them were workers, about 3% of the state’s formal workforce. Pew estimated the total undocumented population in 2012 at 300,000, implying about 200,000 undocumented workers remained.

The WSJ on Feb 9, 2016 estimated that intensive English courses in Arizona public schools fell from 150,000 in 2008 to 70,000 in 2012 and has remained constant since.

Three California-based researchers in 2014 wrote that “We find no evidence that LAWA improved the labor market outcomes for low-skilled legal workers.” The removal of these workers appears to have negatively impacted low skill employment over all. They found evidence of slightly lower employment levels but higher earnings among competing low-skilled white men. “The pattern of results points to a labor supply contraction as the primary mechanism at work.”

But the WSJ said that “wages rose about 15% for Arizona farmworkers and about 10% for construction between 2010 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

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