Tyler Cowen on global talent and immigration

Tyler Cowen interviewed by Noah Smith

Noah Smith: What are a few things that make you most optimistic about the world right now?

Tyler Cowen: By far the most optimistic feature of today’s world is that there is more mobilized talent than ever before, and by a long mile. A mere few decades ago, or less in many cases, if you were born into India, China, or Nigeria, the chance you could make a positive contribution to the world on a significant scale was quite low. It is now much, much higher, largely because of increases in wealth and also because of the internet. I also see the greater scope and speed of scientific communication — also because of the internet — as another force for optimism.

Noah Smith: What policies should we be doing right now to accelerate our long-term growth trajectory?

Tyler Cowen:  As for boosting growth, my number one recommendation would be much more high-skilled immigration. And then more low-skilled immigration to take care of their kids and help run their errands. I also would deregulate most of the American economy, starting with occupational licensing.

The Hispanic immigration since the mid 1960s in a few words

I have posted several times on the rise of Hispanic households in recent years, including relatively rapid growth in wealth (from very low levels), home buying, and education, despite overall lower economic status.  Pew provides us with an overview:

Since 1965, people from Latin America have accounted for about half of the 59 million immigrants who have come to the United States from around the world. In 2019, Hispanic immigrants living in the U.S. made up 44% of the nation’s 44.7 million immigrants. A quarter of the U.S. immigrant population, or 11.4 million, is from Mexico alone,

Most Latinos born in either Puerto Rico or another country (84%) say that if they had to make the choice again, they would migrate to the U.S., including 78% of those who are not U.S. citizens and do not have a green card.

In 2019, 19.8 million Hispanics living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for one-third (33%) of the U.S. Hispanic population. The share of Hispanics born in another country rises to 45% among Hispanics ages 18 and older.

About eight-in-ten U.S.-born Hispanics (79%) say the opportunity to get ahead is better in the U.S. than in their ancestors’ place of origin, with large majorities across generations saying so. The share rises to 87% among Hispanics born in Puerto Rico or another country.

On the other hand, Hispanics are far more likely to say that the strength of family ties are better in their country of origin than in the United States.

From Pew

Asian women soar above others in wage income

Wage income of Asian women went from 102% of the median for all women in 2000 to 163% in 2020.  Hispanic women went from 70% to 73%. (here.)

Median annual wages for full time year round workers 15 years or older. These figures are not adjusted to account for the fact that the Hispanic population is younger, and is working population probably also younger. (here.)


Rising educational status of recent immigrants

The Pew Research Center reported on higher educational attainment of graduates. It noted a steady moderate increase from 1970 through 2007, then a sharp increase. Native-born Americans are better educated than in 1970, but especially in recent years new immigrants have outpaced native-born Americans in education.

Half of newly arrived immigrants in 1970 had at least a high school education; in 2013, more than three-quarters did. In 1970, a fifth had graduated from college; in 2013, 41% had done so. What is going on?

#1 Rise in foreign college graduates

Immigrants have been tilted to college graduates more than native-born Americans for fifty years, at least. In 1970, about 20% of newly arrived immigrants had at least a bachelor’s degree compared with slightly more than 10% of U.S.-born adults. In 2013, 41% of newly arrived immigrants had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30% of U.S.-born adults and 41% of White Americans.

Note that since 1990, college graduation rates by persons in the United States increased. “From 1990 to 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had attained a bachelor’s or higher degree increased for Whites (from 26 to 41%), Blacks (from 13 to 22%), Hispanics (from 8 to 15%), and Asians/ Pacific Islanders (from 43 to 61 percent).” Go here.

#2: Rise in post-graduate degrees

Newly arrived immigrants also are more likely than U.S.-born adults to hold advanced degrees: In 2013, 18% did so, compared with 11% among those born in the U.S.

#3 Huge impact of more Asian immigrants, fewer Central Americans

In 2013 new Asian immigrants, half of whom have college degrees, for the first time exceeded Latin American immigrants in number. The number of new Asian immigrants was stable from 2000 until 2008, and then rose. New Latin American immigrant numbers started dropping in 2005; in 2013 their number had dropped by half, and Mexican numbers really dropped.

How many refugees should we accept?

82 million refugees; 28 million internationally displaced, of which 8 million arising out of U.S. anti-terrorism wars. How many should we in the U.S aim to resettle on average every year?

A Congressional Democratic legislative proposal in 2019 called for at least 95,000 a year, roughly in line with the Obama years.

The first Biden statement on refugees in February 2021 didn’t put a figure. He was pressured to raise the FY2022 target from 16,000 to 65,000. (Here is how the refugee process works.)

Here is a proposal; At the beginning of each fiscal year, the U.S. should set an annual baseline refugee admissions level at 10% of UN High Commissioner on. Refugees’ (UNHCR) Refugees in Need of Resettlement (RINOR) projections for that year.

UNHCR’s Refugees in Need of Resettlement (RINOR) refers to the estimated population of forcibly displaced people who are most in need of permanent resettlement each year

The RINOR figure for 2022 is 1,473,000, up from the 800,000 or so level of the 2010s.

UNHCR began estimating RINOR in 2011, and it has refined and standardized its methodology for producing the estimate in the decade since. The agency’s 2022 projection combines a series of country-specific forecasts made by UNHCR Country Offices that utilize refugee registration data, World Food Programme databases, and standardized needs assessment surveys.

RINOR’s 2022 figure of 1,473,000 includes 418,000 cases, for an average of 3.5 persons per case. The leading state sources are (in descending order of numbers) Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Venezuela, and Iraq.

Canada increases even further employment-based immigration

Canada, which recently upped its immigration target, is doing it again. For 2024, it plans to accept 451,000 persons, 59% of whom are based on employment.

I posted here how Canada is focusing most of its immigration flow on the global middle class. In late 2021, Canada was expecting to host about 400,000 immigrants a year. Now the projection is about 450,000.

Of that 450,000 some 270,000 are to be employment based. Proportionate to population (Canada is 12% of the U.S), that would be 2.2 million employment based new immigrants a year. Bridging both our employment, family, and other immigration classes, I estimate that perhaps half of our immigrants, or 500,000 at the pre-pandemic level of one million, enter the workforce. Thus we would quadrupled our employment based immigration were the U.S. to adopt Canada’s strategy. Doing so would increase our workforce annually by around 1.5%.

Racial and ethnic mixing is up, better identified

In 1967, 3% of new marriages were inter-racial or inter-ethnic. In 2015, 17% were. The rate grew fairly steadily since the 1970s, and spurted upward in the 21st Century.

In 2019, 30% of Hispanic newlyweds married someone who is not Hispanic, a similar share to Asian newlyweds (29%) and a higher share than among Black (20%) and White (12%) newlyweds. Among Hispanic newlyweds, 39% of those born in the U.S. married someone who is not Hispanic compared with 17% of immigrants, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data. (Go here.)

The percentage of adults approving of marriage between Black and white people went from 4% in 1958 to 94% in 2021, per the Gallup poll. (Go here.)

The self-identified multiracial persons were 3% of the total population in 2010. In 2020 they were 10% of the population. The Census said that “The observed changes in the Multiracial population could be attributed to a number of factors, including demographic change since 2010. But we expect they were largely due to the improvements to the design of the two separate questions for race and ethnicity, data processing, and coding, which enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people prefer to self-identify.”

Latino income and wealth in the U.S.

Hispanic financial conditions have been rising faster than others in part because they started lower. They are becoming part of the economic mainstream. For instance they will have a large share of home buying in the next decades.

From a McKinsey study of Latinos in America:

The share of Latinos in skilled and higher-paid occupations has increased by almost five percentage points in the past decade. Yet Latino workers are overrepresented in lower-wage occupations, underrepresented in higher-wage occupations, and generally paid less than non-Latino White workers in the same occupational categories. And the annual median wage for foreign-born Latinos ($31,700) is even lower than for US-born Latinos ($38,848)—and both are significantly lower than the annual median wage of $52,942 for non-Latino White workers.

Latino wealth has grown by an average of around 7 percent annually for the past 20 years, more than twice the rate of non-Latino White wealth. Wealth is also increasing by generation, especially from the first generation to the second.

The median wealth of Latino households in 2019 was about $36,000, just one-fifth of the median $188,200 held by their White peers.Latino families are also significantly more likely to have a zero or negative net worth. Only around 3 percent of Latino families are worth more than $1 million, compared with 16 percent of White households.

Immigrants are a birthing factory

Three facts about age and the foreign born need to be addressed: the foreign born population is relatively old; the age of new immigrants is increasing, but immigrants form a baby factory.

The foreign born population grew significantly younger between 1960 and today, while the native born population grew significantly older. (See age pyramids here, here and here) Yet the median age of the foreign born is older!

But this is misleading, because it does not take into account the fact that very few immigrants today are very young. Their off-spring are: about one quarter of school age children in the U.S. have at least one foreign born parent.

Thus, to say that foreign born are on average older than native born misses the point that foreign born are responsible for a large number of young people.

The Migration Policy Institute says that many migrants migrate to find work abroad, so a high number in the economically active 20 to 54 age bracket is not uncommon. The majority of immigrants in 2019 were adults between the ages of 20 and 54; hence are of child bearing age. They are birthing boomers. 20% of births are by immigrant mothers, but only 14% of residents are foreign born.

Newly arrived immigrants are getting older.

The average age of newly arrived legal and illegal immigrants was 31 years in 2019, compared to 26 years in 2000. CIS cites several factors likely explain the rising age of new arrivals:
(1) The rise in the age at arrival for immigrants is a broad phenomenon affecting immigrants from most, though not all, of the primary sending regions and top sending countries. Mexico, for example, is undergoing dramatic demographic change, with a rapidly aging population caused by a declining birthrate and improved life expectancy.
(2) An increase in the number of green cards going to the parents of U.S. citizens, and a decline in new illegal immigration relative to earlier years. Family chain migration greatly increased, bringing in parents. Every 100 initiating immigrants from the 1981–1985 admission cohort sponsored an average of 260 family members over the observation period. By comparison, every 100 initiating immigrants from the 1996–2000  cohort sponsored an average 345 family members (here).

(3) Shifts in the unauthorized population. There was an end to the surge of youngish unauthorized persons (mainly men), which began in the late 1980s and stopped in 2007-2008. In 2018, the percentage of unauthorized men over 44 was 23%, while 34% of the total U.S. population was over 44. The unauthorized population in the U.S. declined by about 15% since 2008 while the total population grew by 9%. The unauthorized population fell from 30% of total foreign born in 2008 to 23% in 2020.

How Nigerian immigration is growing fast

Nigeria is quickly growing its immigration flow into the U.S. This is particularly notable when compared to trends in Chinese and Indian immigration.

Nigeria is the 7th largest country by population. Its population growth rate is 2.55% whereas the six larger countries’ growth rate is mostly under 1%. Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. are the highest educated among source countries. Compared to China and India, its immigrant flow into the U.S. is low.

Here, here and here are some prior posts on Nigerian immigrants.

At 206 million population, Nigeria is one seventh the size of either China or India (1.4B). As a percentage of its population, Nigerian family immigration in 2019 was higher than that of China and India ((73 per mill pop vs 43 and 36 respectively). Employment based immigration is comparative much less (8 per mill vs 12 and 12 respectively).

Employment based immigration from India and China are effectively capped by the rule that no more than 7% of all immigration subject to strict number limitation can come from one country. (To see the wait times for immigrants from these countries, go here and here.)

Nigerian immigration is well under the cap. This allows immigration from Nigeria to rapidly increase. For example, between 2010 and 2019, employment-based immigration from Nigeria tripled from practically zero whereas employment-based immigration from China and India each remained at about 11% of total employment-based immigration. Employment immigration from Nigeria may continue to be relatively weak unless the information technology workforce grows a lot in Nigeria. (For 2010, go here.)

Family based immigration from Nigeria in 2019 was twice the rate (nbr vs population) of China and India) and the number increased by 50% from 2010 vs flat for China and India.