BY ANNA LANDSVERK
Immigration claims and buzzwords have been thrown around all year, but it is dif cult to discern what’s really true. Dr. Oscar Flores of the MSUM economics department sought to do his part to inform the public with his talk, “The Economic Impact of Immigration on the American Economy.”
The presentation was a summary of the key economic research findings on issues of immigration in the economy. Flores spoke as the winner of the 2016 Dille Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award, which honors significant faculty research and the ability to present information in an understandable and engaging manner.
“It was mostly for people to have an idea what’s happening,” Flores said on the goal of the lecture. “Today was more about the general public. Students, faculty, members of the community, whoever was interested in this.”
Flores said that he and the dean of the college of humanities and social sciences, Dr. Randy Cagle, came up with the idea while discussing the election.
“We were talking about immigration because everyone was talking about immigration, and at that point, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if—’ and that is essentially what happened. Everyone was talking about it and we said ‘Let’s do this.’”
For Flores, researching immigration and the economy is not a new occurrence. In fact, he incorporated some of these ideas in his dissertation when he was in graduate school. For that reason, it was hard for him to pinpoint just how long he had been researching the topic.
“Well, for a long time and for a short time. By which I mean that over the years, I have continuously read, lightly, economic research on immigration,” Flores said. “When we decided to put together this talk, then I spent several weeks more intensely reading it, but a lot of it I kind of knew already from past readings.”
One MSUM student who came to the lecture, Cody Rittenhouse, explained his reason for attending.
“I came based on the political election coming up; a lot of (emphasis) has been placed on immigration,” Rittenhouse said, adding that he had academic motivations as well. “Having Dr. Flores as my econometrics professor, he’s given us nitpicks about our data presentation, and I thought it would be useful for my own paper to see how research doesn’t necessarily always go with theory.”
One highly positive aspect of the presentation was that Flores used very basic economic concepts to help explain the data he found.
Rittenhouse also pointed out the main group of workers that are being affected: lower-skilled, poorly-educated people native to the United States. This population can be extremely vocal, as they have been this election cycle, but they may be failing to recognize the larger bene ts to the country at large.
“I would say that the negative effects are very minimal,” Rittenhouse said. “It helps increase our growth as a country, makes us overall better and diversified and more internationally competitive the more (immigrants) we have with us.”
He also noted that if there was a decline in the immigrant population, as has happened with Mexico over the past two decades, it can mean that we as a nation are not performing well.
“I would think that there’s something wrong that they’re not wanting to come to us for some reason,” Rittenhouse said. “If people want to come here, we’re obviously doing something wrong and we can fix it.”
For centuries, American workers have been claiming that immigrant populations from the Irish to the Chinese to the Poles were going to destroy jobs and put American-born workers in the gutter. However, the data proves that the more diverse our job pool, the greater chances that American-born workers can move up into higher-skilled, higher- paying jobs over time.
While there are many points of research still undiscovered, Flores will never fully stop his work into this important subject.
“I will always keep up with it, to some degree,” Flores said. “At this point, I have other avenues of research that I’m interested in; for instance, I want to understand better what are the factors that make our freshmen students want to stay for their sophomore year and what may make them leave, so that’s what I’m studying right now. But immigration will always be present somehow.”