Calculated Risk tells us the key to fixing the housing market:
The key to the housing market is to absorb the excess inventory. That means more households and fewer new housing units. Luckily housing starts are very low right now, but unfortunately there is very little job growth (and therefore little new household formation).
But job growth is not the only way to get new household formation, as I’ve argued again and again, we have immigration at our disposal. Of course, there are the usual complaints about jobs. But the weakness of this argument can be seen in a new paper Felix Salmon directs us to:
Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.
It is well understood that the removing capital tariffs and protectionism would increase overall efficiency and incomes. Since immigration restrictions are labor market protectionism we shouldn’t be surprised to see that is has similar positive effects.
Unfortunately, journalists and pundits don’t seem to oppose labor protectionism nearly as much as they oppose capital protectionism. We would see an outcry among op-eds and pundits if we were seeing a worldwide rise in capital protectionism, because they recognize that beggar-thy-neighbor policies make everyone worse off. But no similar reaction has come from the rise in global labor protectionism. Here is how a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute describes the situation:
Confronted with the most severe economic crisis in decades and rising unemployment, governments in locations across the globe embraced a range of policies to suppress the inflow of migrants, encourage their departure, and protect labor markets for native-born workers.
From Malaysia and Thailand to Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, and Russia, many governments have sought to restrict access to their labor markets by halting, or at least decreasing, the numbers of work permits for foreigners. Others, such as the United Kingdom, tightened admission requirements. And while the policy focus of many of these countries was on reducing the entry of low-skilled workers, the United States placed restrictions on some companies seeking to bring in the highly skilled.
In addition to the results from Felix above, the wider literature on the issue tells us the quantifiable impact on wages is likely to be minimal compared to the impact on house prices. For instance, research from economist Albert Saiz found
“…a very robust impact on rents and housing prices that is an order of magnitude bigger than the estimates from the wage literature. Immigration inﬂows equal to 1% of a city’s population were associated with increases in average or median housing rents and prices of about 1%.”
Emphasis his. In previous research, Saiz used a classic example of exogenous immigration from the literature and found effects of a similar magnitude. Looking at the Mariel boatlift, a sudden inflow of immigrants from Cuba which increased the population of Miami by 4%, Saiz found that rents in Miami increased 8%. Overall, there appears to be a robust relationship between immigration and housing prices.
Calculated Risk tells us that “Usually housing is a key engine of recovery, especially for jobs. But this time housing is going to follow the economy.” But this is not because of economics, but politics. Instead of waiting around for the labor market to lead housing recovery, let’s use the tools we have to help housing recovery lead.