Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Football Stadium Economy

By Christopher Stiffler
As week one of the NFL season begins, the hype surrounding the Broncos opening match up with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football continues to build.  Bronco and Steeler fans have substantially bid up the price of tickets.  With a limited amount of seats available in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, every Steeler fan who purchases a ticket for opening day directly translates into one less available ticket for a Broncos fan.  It makes sense to reason that if we remove all the Steeler fans from the crowd, more seats will be available for the blue and orange faithful.  
We often witness the same type of reasoning in the immigration debate.  If all undocumented immigrants are removed from the job market, it creates more availability for American citizens to fill those jobs.  Those who advocate removing undocumented immigrants so more Coloradans can find work, tend to view the economy as a sports arena that has a limited number of seats.  They also often display the same hostility toward undocumented workers as they display to Steeler fans taking their seats. 
However, unlike Steeler fans at Mile High, whose presence directly means fewer Bronco fans at the game, allowing immigrants into the Colorado economy does not mean fewer jobs for Colorado citizens.  In fact, it often means more.  A football stadium has a limited number of seats, whereas the economy is dynamic.  It expands and contracts; sometimes it needs fewer jobs sometimes it needs more.  There is not a fixed number of jobs in the state of Colorado, which is the part that the anti-immigration advocates tend to forget.  Undocumented immigrants’ unique labor market skills enable the economy to be more productive.  In addition, undocumented immigrants’ spending adds to aggregate demand. 
Once we get past the rhetoric and look at the reality of the modern economy, we can see the positive impact immigrants have on our economy.  This is because immigrants are often a complement to existing labor and not a direct substitute.  Immigration encourages the specialization of non-immigrant workers.  Undocumented labor encourages other, less-educated workers to leave physically intensive occupations for jobs that require language skills.  Productivity gains arise from specialization along with higher compensation paid for communication skills. 
Though it is not initially intuitive, rising education levels of the non-immigrant adult population have corresponded with increased immigration.  This is because immigrants have occupied many low-income jobs which move the non-immigrants into middle-income jobs.  Many economists agree that the key to a thriving and developing economy is constantly increasing productivity.  This means workers making the most of their individual skills.  If you accept the notion that our economy works well when everyone is maximizing their unique skills, then you must acknowledge that immigration has a positive impact on our economy.   
It is largely acknowledged that the immigration system in America has some major faults as a majority of Americans believe that Congress needs to reform immigration policy.  But while there has been very little improvement to immigration policy on the federal level, local and state governments face an increasing burden of finding, arresting, and detaining undocumented immigrants. 
While focusing only on enforcement strategies that involve deportation and strict immigration requirements, policy makers must be aware of the potential economic fallout from the disruptions, dislocations, and disturbances as immigrants’ absences ripple through the economy.  Removing undocumented workers won’t free up jobs for other workers, instead it will remove a complementary piece of the labor force that allows our economy to be dynamic. 
When Steeler fans are sprinkled around Mile High Stadium, it creates a louder, more energetic environment because Broncos fans are spurred to cheer longer and louder to drown out the Steeler cheers.  Our labor force functions the same way.  Undocumented immigrants in our labor force create a more vitalized, productive labor force for everyone. 

Christopher Stiffler is a Pennsylvania native turned Coloradan, and unfortunately, a lifelong Steelers fan. 

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