Black Crime: The Immigration Dimension

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, former chairman of
President Bush`s Council of Economic Advisers,

recently blogged

"Of all the economists
I know,

George Borjas

Harvard`s Kennedy School
is the one most critical of
proposals to relax immigration restrictions, such as
President Bush`s proposed guest worker program."

There`s a

parsimonious explanation
: Dr. Borjas knows

about the effects of immigration than all
the other economists

Dr. Mankiw


tend to be

willfully ignorant
about immigration, Borjas has
been an impressive exception.

Now, in collaboration with

Jeffrey Grogger

Gordon H. Hanson
, Borjas has published an important
new paper, "Immigration
and African-American Employment Opportunities: The
Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to
Labor Supply Shocks
," on a topic often discussed
here at

Is immigration bad for

Perhaps the most tragic American paradox of the last
half century is that as the

legal and social restrictions
hindering black
economic advancement diminished and a sizable black
middle class emerged, a

large fraction of black men
dropped out of the
workforce and/or went to prison.

The three economists note that from 1960 to 2000:

"The employment rate
of black men in the United States fell precipitously
from 89.6 percent in 1960 to 76.1 percent in 2000… The
decline in labor market participation among black men
was accompanied by a rapid increase in the number of
black men in correctional institutions. As recently as
1980, only 0.8 percent of black men … were incarcerated.
By 2000, 9.6 percent of black men … were incarcerated."

In particular, for black male high school dropouts, the
exit from the job market was catastrophic:

"… the employment rate
of black high school dropouts fell by 33 percentage
points, from 88.6 to 55.7 percent, as compared to an 18
percentage point drop for white high school dropouts,
from 94.1 to 76.0 percent."

This isn`t the "unemployment rate," but the
"employment rate."
The more famous unemployment rate
doesn`t measure those who have given up looking for a
job because they are discouraged, lazy, or in jail.

Similarly, the black crime rate shot upwards and, once

Sixties and Seventies were over, so
did the

black imprisonment rate

"As recently as 1980,
only 0.8 percent of black men … were incarcerated. By
2000, 9.6 percent of black men … were incarcerated."


black male high school dropouts
, the historic surge
in imprisonment staggers the imagination:

[black male] high
school dropouts with 1 to 30 years of experience, for
example, the incarceration rate was 1.4 percent in 1960,
1.3 percent in 1980, 14.3 percent in 1990, and an
astounding 25.1 percent in 2000."

In other words, about one quarter of

black male high school dropouts
are locked up at any
point in time.

Was immigration`s depressing effect on wages responsible
for this by dissuading less skilled blacks from honest

Borjas has done a sophisticated study. Since

, I`ve been nagging prominent economists such as

Steven "The Freakonomist" Levitt

David Card
to stop promoting theories (in Levitt`s
case, that

legalizing abortion cut crime
and in Card`s case,
that immigration doesn`t reduce wages) that depend on
blithely ignoring notorious real world events such as

crack cocaine era
of 1987-95 and the Miami

powder cocaine boom
of the early Eighties,

Borjas, however, explicitly includes the effect of crack
in his model.

Moreover, while Levitt and Card fetishize

state/local data
,  which allows them to bury their

in reasoning and technique in a blizzard of
numbers, Borjas looks both at immigration`s impact on
black behavior in the individual states and at
the national level, which more realistically accounts
for the interconnectedness of the national market.

Still, this is a difficult topic to quantify fully. So,
before revealing Borjas` findings on

immigration`s impact on African-Americans
, I`m first
going to lay out my more casual reasoning to explain why
his results strike me as quite plausible.

The costs imposed by the post-1960 moral collapse of the
lower stratum of African-Americans have been borne by

more than
those poor blacks themselves, but

by all of American society
. Arguably, the decay of
the black underclass was the worst disaster suffered by
America in the second half of the 20th Century. The
heightened number of murders committed by blacks during
the great crime wave of roughly 1965 through 1995 is
about twice the total American fatality toll in Vietnam.

We more or less lost one great American city, Detroit,

looks today
as if all the terrorists in history and
imagination had

done their worst
to it.

Can we blame it all on immigration?

As satisfying as that would be, I`ve always been
skeptical. The historical record suggests that this
downfall of the black underclass first began about
1964-65, before immigration became as powerful a force
as it has been over the last quarter of a century.

To illustrate broad historical trends, I created in 2005 the

Crime Misery Index
, modeled on the traditional

Economic Misery Index
(unemployment rate plus
inflation rate) invented by economist Robert Barro.

The idea is to track both crime (the red line indicates homicide
victimization per capita, that being the most
trustworthy measure of the crime rate because

attention must be paid
to a

dead body
) plus the costs we undergo to avoid crime
(with the blue line indicating my proxy: the state /
federal imprisonment rate per capita.)

The purple line above is the sum of the homicide rate (red line) plus
the imprisonment rate (blue line). The averages of the
1950s are set as equal to 100 for both homicide and
prison indices, so the combined Crime Misery Index in
the 1950s averaged 200.

Crime Misery Index graph is
for all races. The federal government only breaks out

homicide rates by race

since 1976, but African-Americans have committed a
majority of all murders in most years since then, so
these overall figures roughly follow the black rates.

As you can see in the Crime Misery graph, in the 1960s the imprisonment
rate went down while the murder rate, not
coincidentally, shot up, roughly doubling from 1965 to
1975. Eventually in the late 1970s, the prison rate
started its long rise. The murder rate dropped a little
in the mid-1980s, then rose again to another peak in the
early 1990s during the crack wars. The prison rate went
through the roof in the 1990s and the murder rate
finally dropped significantly.

Although by 2000 the murder rate was almost back down to the good old
days of the

the overall Crime Misery Index remained at a
historically unprecedented level due to the huge costs
we continue pay to avoid crime.

So, it`s unlikely that immigration was the primary initial
trigger of the rise in antisocial behavior by poor
blacks from 1965 onward. The usual suspects such as more
liberal welfare payments and the Warren Court
undermining police forces seem more plausible.

A less well-understood cause of the post 1965 crime wave had its roots
in the

Great Migration
of blacks from the South to the
North, which peaked after World War II. First generation
migrants tend to have moderate crime rates because they
typically arrive too old to fall into youth street
gangs. Plus, newcomers tend to be intimidated by
memories of the

harsh policing
back home and by the novelty of their
new urban environments.

Their sons and grandsons, however, often have much higher crime rates.
For example, columnist

Linda Chavez

attempted to defend mass immigration
by citing
statistics implying that

American-born Mexicans
are more than eight times
more likely to be imprisoned than are Mexican-born
Mexicans. (For some reason, she thought this was good

Similarly, the generation of black youth that grew up on the streets of
the Northern big cities in the 1960s simply felt more
secure about breaking the law than did their more
anxious ancestors from the Jim Crow South.

Meanwhile, the
Black Pride
movement of the 1960s discouraged blacks
from taking traditional service jobs, such as waiters,
because they now seemed

and unmanly. (Whether Hispanics might
someday experience a similar change of heart is
something the American elite never worries about.)

1965 Watts Riot
signposted the beginning of the
crisis of the black underclass and the

1992 South Central Riots
denoted its nadir during
the crack years.

Since then, fortunately, there has been some recovery among
blacks—mostly among black women. Many of their
statistical indicators started flickering upward in the
early 1990s, and the 1996 cutback in welfare boosted the
trend toward black female self-reliance.

So today black men are killing each other in reduced numbers. But they
are still going to jail at

horrific rates.
And their labor force participation
remains very bad. In the boom year 1999, 30 percent of
younger black men were out of the labor force.

This is where immigration has an effect. It may not have set off the
black behavioral decline—but it has made it harder for
blacks to recover.

If a young black man of below-average intellect is wavering between a
career as a laborer or as a criminal, the wage he would
earn doing

honest work
can play a role in this crucial
decision. And, according to the law of

supply and demand,
that wage must be

driven down
by the increased supply of labor caused
by immigration.

The weaker rebound by black men may well stem from the
greater competition suffered by black men at the hands
of Hispanic illegal immigrants. First,
there are

more male than female
illegal aliens. Second, lots
of black women go into clerical jobs where literacy in
English is a prerequisite. Many get government jobs
reserved for citizens.

contrast, black men have more trouble than black women

high school degrees
and learning to read and write
adequately, so they are more vulnerable to displacement
from blue-collar jobs by illegal alien men.

Borjas notes:

"The comparison of
the simulation results for black and white men suggests
that the 1980-2000 immigrant influx had roughly similar
impacts on wages by race

[about an 8 percent
cut for high school dropouts], but had a bigger
impact on both employment rates and incarceration rates
for blacks."

appears that whites tended to gut it out in the
workforce when immigration hurt their wages. Blacks
seemed to be more vulnerable to dropping out of the work
force and trying their hand at crime.

fits with other evidence showing that the moral
character of the white American working class has been

over the last couple of decades, perhaps
due to the popularity of fundamentalist Christianity. In
contrast, the irreligious white British working class
has deteriorated into neo-Hogarthian


property crime.

concludes, quite reasonably:

"The economic
adjustments unleashed by the large 1980-2000

immigrant influx,
a labor supply shock that
increased the number of workers in the United States by
nearly 10 percent and the number of high school dropouts
by over 20 percent, reduced the employment rate of black
men by about 5.0 percentage points.

He notes the
substantial harm immigrant competition has imposed on

black fellow citizens

therefore, accounts for about a third of the 17.1
percentage point decline in black employment rates.
Similarly, the changes in economic opportunities caused
by the 1980-2000 immigrant influx raised the
incarceration rate of black high school dropouts by 1.7
percentage points, accounting for almost 10 percent of
the 19.5 percentage point increase observed during that

immigration didn`t start the corrosion suffered by our
black fellow citizens, but it has exacerbated it.

As with

many other American social problems
, there is an
immigration dimension— unexamined except here on

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
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