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Sonoma State University’s Chong-Uk Kim has built his career on studying how labor and capital cross borders, as well as the impacts the two have on domestic economies.

In his latest published research, the associate professor of economics has put forward a timely and contentious finding: The United States workforce does not lose jobs and wages to immigrant laborers in the country.

“My point is immigrants from Mexico and other countries are filling the gap and are not taking jobs the domestic workforce wants,” said Kim, who has taught at SSU since 2007. “These people will not hurt your job and your opportunities.”

Kim and Gieyoung Lim, a Seoul-based professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, analyzed U.S. Census Department data from 1995 to 2010 and came to three main findings in their recent paper in the academic journal Applied Economics.

Their first conclusion: Immigrants do not take the jobs of U.S.-born workers. Their second finding: Skilled and unskilled immigrants have the same effects on labor markets in the U.S. And third: Immigrants are not a major competitive force taking jobs from other U.S. immigrants.

The findings diverge from related research by other labor experts, a point Kim acknowledges.

Roughly half the economists who study immigration’s effect on labor markets find positive impacts and economic growth. The other half find it erodes domestic wages, he said.

In his paper, published in November, Kim cited an example of the latter, where a 10 percent increase in immigration led to a 1.2 percent decrease in wages for unskilled U.S.-born workers, according to U.S. economists Joseph Altonji and David Card in a 1991 study that analyzed U.S. Census data from 1970 and 1980.

But different data sets and models dramatically change the results.

Kim contends it is regional economic trends, not immigration, that most affect jobs and wages.

“Based on my study, I’ve found no empirical evidence to support immigrants take jobs or wages,” he said.

Kim’s research comes as President Donald Trump’s planned crackdown on illegal immigration and now-suspended order barring U.S. immigration from seven Muslim majority countries have focused renewed scrutiny on the contributions and impacts of immigrants on American life and the economy.

Another recent report, from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington, D.C., found that undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in state and local taxes nationally. The nonpartisan but liberal-leaning think tank concluded that a pathway to citizenship — which conservative Republicans in Congress strongly oppose — would increase tax revenue by more than $2 billion.

Two of the findings by Kim and Lim — relating to competition between the U.S.-born workforce and immigrants, skilled and unskilled — have been supported by other economic studies in the past.

His conclusion about labor competition between immigrants, however, is new.

The idea to take on that question came to Kim at a town hall meeting on immigration in Sonoma County a few years ago. A fieldworker from Mexico asked Kim: If more people kept coming from Mexico, would people already in the U.S. end up losing jobs? Kim was unaware of any research on that specific topic, so he went to work.

His research found that competition between immigrants doesn’t affect labor market outcomes as much the overall strength or weakness of the economy. Wine from California is becoming more popular around the world, which creates jobs and drives up wages for immigrant workers, Kim said.

If there’s a downturn and consumer demand for wine drops, job losses and wage decreases are attributed to larger economic factors, not competition from other immigrants, he said.

Jack Buckhorn, president of the North Bay Labor Council, hasn’t read Kim’s study, but said in some cases immigrant labor has taken jobs from both U.S.-born and other immigrant workers.

“That conclusion might not be true in the construction industry,” Buckhorn said of Kim’s findings. “There are examples of contractors using undocumented labor and exploiting them terribly on jobs that could be done fairly by union workers.”

Buckhorn doesn’t blame immigrants but labor and immigration laws that allow for domestic workers to be undercut by a lower-paid, sometimes transient workforce. Kim’s research took into account U.S. workforce totals and not specific jobs and trades.

Kim also acknowledged that the census data he used, from the Current Population Survey, does not account for whether a worker is in the country legally.

While the two have different takes on the effects of immigrant labor, both Buckhorn and Kim warn of potential negative economic impacts from a mass deportation of undocumented workers like the one Trump has vowed to carry out.

“I am a fan of legal immigration,” Kim said. “No one is above the law, but our system creates illegal immigrants, so our system isn’t working.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct a quote from Chong-Uk Kim.

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