Sunday, 11 April 2010

Statistics, migration spin and the election

UK Faces Invasion by Disease-Ridden ForeignersImage by acidrabbi via Flickr
Source: Migrants Rights Network

By Don Flynn

Pretty well a perfect storm of misleading citation of statistics in this piece in the April 8 Daily Mail. So many examples of journalistic bad faith to chose from, but the assertion that an alleged “98.5 per cent of 1.67million new posts [created after 1997] were taken by immigrants”, and that this should be seen as evidence of a failed rationale for migration, is my favourite.

The faults with this reasoning are legion, but amongst those worth mentioning is the error made in assuming that the distribution of new jobs to natives should be considered, a priori, a good thing. If the new jobs created are concentrated in low-skill, casual, low wage sectors then the fact that they are going to natives who had previously being doing high skill, high wages jobs, would be a sign of the poor health of the economy, rather than a strength, because it would represent a sharp reduction in its capacity to maintain a decent level of welfare.

Contrariwise, a situation in which 100% of new jobs went to migrants could be evidence of substantial welfare gains for native workers if the effect of an expanded econony was to produce greater job security and higher levels of wage growth across the traditional sectors, where the majority of natives are presumably employed. In these circumstances, yes, the new jobs would all go to the migrants, but the natives would still benefit because their old businesses would be reinvigorated by the conditions of an expanded economy and they would be able to retain their better paid, more skilled jobs.

In real life the situation is more complicated because this scenario doesn’t take into account the position of long-term unemployed natives who have been locked out of the economy for structural reasons - living in the wrong parts of the country, unable to move because of a dysfunctional housing market, etc. But even here the dismal situation of this group cannot be said to have been made worse because of the arrival of migrants, because their problems need to be addressed by programmes of major structural reform which the British state has not been prepared to undertake for many decades past. Indeed, given the reluctance of governments to attempt these reforms during periods of low migration, it could well be argued that high migration rates are precisely what is needed to put some backbone into otherwise complacennt public policy attitudes.

Others might have other reasons for wanting to trash this duplicitous piece of journalism. Please be my guest…

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