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Factors Affecting Labor Markets, Immigration

immigration increases, unlimited immigration, immigration legislation, Capital resources, nations of Western Europe

Labor markets in the United States have also been significantly affected by the immigration of families and workers from other nations. Most families and workers in the United States can trace their heritage to immigrants. In fact, before the 20th century, while the United States was trying to settle its frontiers, it allowed essentially unlimited immigration. In these periods the U.S. economy had more land and other natural resources than it was able to use, because labor was so scarce. Immigration served as one of the main remedies for this shortage of labor.

Generally, immigration raises national output and income levels. These changes occur because immigration increases the number of workers in the economy, which allows employers to produce more goods and services. Capital resources in the economy may also become more valuable as immigration increases. The number of workers available to work with machines and tools increases, as does the number of consumers who want to buy goods and services. However, wages for jobs that are filled by large numbers of immigrants may decrease. This wage decline stems from greater competition for these jobs and from the fact that many immigrants are willing to work for lower wages than other U.S. workers.

Immigration into the United States is now regulated by a system of quotas that limits the number of immigrants who can legally enter the country each year. In 1964 Congress changed immigration policies to give preference to those with families already in the United States, to refugees facing political persecution, and to individuals with other humanitarian concerns. Before that time, more weight had been placed on immigrantsí labor-market skills. Although this change in policy helped reunite families, it also increased the supply of unskilled labor in the nation, especially in the states of California, Florida, and New York. In 1990 Congress modified the immigration legislation to set a separate annual quota for immigrants with job skills needed in the United States. But people with family members who are already U.S. citizens remain the largest category of immigrants, and U.S. immigration law still puts less focus on job skills than do immigration laws in many other market economies, including Canada and many of the nations of Western Europe.

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