EU immigration does push down wages for the low-skilled—but only very slightlyby John Springford / April 28, 2016 / Leave a comment
Brexiteers, after a difficult start to the campaign, are trying to push the EU debate onto immigration. On the Today programme on Monday, Iain Duncan Smith said: “An awful lot of people come here and compete hugely with lots of British people who are in job centres… and they drop down the salary levels; they damage the poorest people in society, because they’ve seen their incomes fall.” When he was work and pensions secretary, Duncan Smith had some of the best labour market wonks working for him. As a politician not known for cautious empiricism, perhaps he didn’t ask them whether this commonplace view was right. Had he done so, they would have said: “Well, minister, you’re not wrong exactly, but in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t much to get worked up about.”
The economics of immigration is a bitterly contested subject—not so much among economists themselves, who exhibit a fair degree of consensus on the matter—but among politicians and the ecology of journalists, think tanks and pressure groups that swim alongside them. And, of course, it is central to the Brexit question, which was always going to boil down to: are you willing to be poorer to have fewer migrants from Central and Eastern Europe around?