No, Syrian Refugees Have Not Caused Four Decades Of Wage Stagnation

The paltry number of Syrian refugees in the U.S. doesn't make a dime's worth of difference on wages.
Eric Trump knows who's to blame for low wages in this country.
Eric Trump knows who's to blame for low wages in this country.

If you’re wondering how you too can succeed in American politics without really trying, there are some basic things you need to master. One of the most useful things you can learn to do is to blame immigrants and foreigners for everything that’s going wrong. That way, when voters come to you, wondering why their lives haven’t improved despite your long history of promising “renewal” and “restoration,” you can just say, “Immigrants and foreigners, man,” and hopefully get voters to redirect all that anger elsewhere.

Donald Trump, who has had a lot of success in American politics without really trying, has made good use of the whole “blame immigrants and foreigners” thing. But now, as his campaign struggles to both pivot from their flamboyant demonization of immigrants and foreigners while simultaneously trying to ensure people they aren’t pivoting, they’re suddenly all over the shop on the issue they’ve made central to their own raison d’être. Donald Trump has decided to distract from this topic by promising to “tell the real story” about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, “some day, when things calm down.” (Will “things” ever “calm down?” It’s an open question!)

Eric Trump, by contrast, is sticking to the tried-and-true “blame immigrants and foreigners” schtick, but with an added Islamophobic twist: He’s holding our Syrian refugees for extra-special blame. As Politico’s Nick Gass reports (emphasis mine):

Trump said his father “wants a safe country, and he also wants Americans to have jobs.”

“I mean, they should come first. You were born in this country. You were born here legally. You’re here legally. I mean, wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years and it’s because you have, you know, Syrian refugees coming in,” Eric Trump continued. “It’s because you have, you know, thousands of people coming over the border. I mean, and Americans are suffering because of it and that’s his point. So he’s speaking to Hispanic and Latino leaders and he’s having really amazing conversations. He’s also speaking to law enforcement, he’s speaking to border patrol. And you know he’s going formulate a really, really great plan that’s humane and ethical and that treats everybody well. But we have to solve the problem. It’s a real problem for this country.”

Now, the larger question about how immigration ― lawful and otherwise ― affects wage growth is an interesting debate, the contours of which have been well laid out by the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Sparshott. As he notes, “immigration critics frequently cite the work of George Borjas, an economics professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government,” who argues that “immigration erodes wages for lower skilled U.S. natives.” But in other instances, studies have found “more broadly distributed benefits to the economy, a less severe squeeze on wages and occasionally even a boost to pay from immigration.”

But we can leave Syrian refugees the hell out of this debate? There are so few of them, and their arrival to these shores is really late to the whole wage stagnation party, which, as the Economic Policy Institute points out at length, has been going strong for a long time now.

As you can see, wage stagnation is not something that started 15 years ago, despite what Eric Trump thinks. Rather, as the Economic Policy Institute notes, it’s been a going concern for about four decades now. But we’ve not had masses of Syrian refugees coming to this country for 15 years, either. The Syrian refugee crisis has only heated up since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. During that time, the United States has endeavored to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing certain death. But of the some 5 million Syrians who have left their country, very few have made it to these shores.

Here are the most current figures from the State Department regarding the number of Syrians who have been resettled in the United States since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War: 

It is true that the Obama administration committed itself to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this year. They’ve been lagging behind in fulfilling that goal, but are now on track to meet it. But even if those people do all come to the U.S., the country will still be a bit player in the refugee resettling game. That hasn’t stopped a disproportionate amount of hot political talk on this issue, which has kept our diligent fact-checking industry busy.

But hey, “Syrian refugees have contributed to decades of stagnant wages” is a new one. (To be honest, the Trump campaign criticizing the lack of wage growth is a new one, as well.) Suffice it to say, as the Economic Policy Institute points out, “wage stagnation is largely the result of policy choices that boosted the bargaining power of those with the most wealth and power,” and that “better policy choices, made with low- and moderate-wage earners in mind, can lead to more widespread wage growth and strengthen and expand the middle class.”

If a politician has “better policy choices” in mind, they will say so. Otherwise, they will blame immigrants and foreigners.

The basic story here is that Donald Trump is an exceedingly conventional politician. Sad!


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.



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