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  • Migrants in line to enter Ellis Island. Millions of Europeans migrated to the U.S. at the start of the 20th century.

    Migrants in line to enter Ellis Island. Millions of Europeans migrated to the U.S. at the start of the 20th century. | Photo: U.S. Library of Congress

Published 19 March 2019 (21 hours 18 minutes ago)

The study found that counties with more historical migration have higher income, less poverty, less unemployment, higher rates of urbanization, and greater educational attainment today.

From 1860 to 1920, the United States experienced what is known as the Age of Mass Migration. Almost a century later, a new peer-review study published by Oxford University Press notes that U.S. counties who received more historical migration nowadays enjoy better economies.

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“We studied the effects of European immigration on economic prosperity and found that counties with more historical immigration have higher income, less poverty, less unemployment, higher rates of urbanization, and greater educational attainment today,” reveal the authors. The research was published on March 12, 2019, in the scientific journal, Review of Economic Studies. 

During the time period over 20 million eastern, northern and southern Europeans reached the U.S. at a time when the country only had 75 million citizens. Most settled in urban coastal centers yet many moved to the interior of the country. The investigation was applied to 1,489 counties, which consist of those that existed in 1860 and have the same boundaries from 1860–2000, as well as estimates and historical projections. 

Data suggests that an increase on the percentage of migrants in a country by 4.9 percent resulted in a 13 percent increase in average per capita income today, a 44 percent increase in average manufacturing output per capita from 1860-1920, a 37 percent increase in agricultural productivity, and a 152 percent increase in the number of patents per capita related to innovation. 

This study comes at a crucial moment as the U.S. political discourse led by President Donald Trump, rallies on the supposed detrimental effect that immigrants have on the communities in which they settle. Yet, according to the researchers, migrants not only benefit the economy but their presence doesn’t have long-run social costs. Those counties that experience more historical migration as of today have similar levels of social capital, civic participation, and rates of crime.

"There are several important parallels that one could draw between then and now: the large influx of unskilled labor, the small but important inflow of highly skilled innovators, as well as the significant short-run social backlash against immigration. There is much to be learned from taking a longer perspective on the immigration debate," concluded lead-author and researcher at  The London School of Economics, Sandra Sequeira.

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