Examining U.S. Immigration’s Economic Impact

In last night’s third and final presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, immigration again emerged as a defining topic in discussion of both regulatory reform and the economy. With an increasing amount of immigration by highly skilled laborers—and, of course, the potential reputation impact on companies seen as giving more jobs to non-citizens or moving out of the country in pursuit of labor—changes in such policy have clear implications for risk professionals.

Last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released one of the most comprehensive studies to date on the economic impact of immigration in the United States. Overall, the researchers found that immigration over the past couple of decades has done more good than harm, creating positive impacts on the national economy and causing little lasting impact on the wages or employment levels of native-born Americans. “Immigration enlarges the economy while leaving the native population slightly better off on average,” the study said, also pointing out increases in innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change across the economy. “The prospects for long run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants,” the researchers reported.

Some of the study’s key findings and conclusions include:

  • When measured over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small. To the extent that negative impacts occur, they are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born workers who have not completed high school—who are often the closest substitutes for immigrant workers with low skills.
  • There is little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels of native-born workers. As with wage impacts, there is some evidence that recent immigrants reduce the employment rate of prior immigrants. In addition, recent research finds that immigration reduces the number of hours worked by native teens (but not their employment levels).
  • Some evidence on inflow of skilled immigrants suggests that there may be positive wage effects for some subgroups of native-born workers, and other benefits to the economy more broadly.
  • Immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.
  • In terms of fiscal impacts, first-generation immigrants are more costly to governments, mainly at the state and local levels, than are the native-born, in large part due to the costs of educating their children. However, as adults, the children of immigrants (the second generation) are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.
  • Over the long term, the impacts of immigrants on government budgets are generally positive at the federal level but remain negative at the state and local level — but these generalizations are subject to a number of important assumptions. Immigration’s fiscal effects vary tremendously across states.

“The panel’s comprehensive examination revealed many important benefits of immigration—including on economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship—with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term,” said Francine D. Blau, Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and professor of economics at Cornell University, and chair of the panel that conducted the study and wrote the report. “Where negative wage impacts have been detected, native-born high school dropouts and prior immigrants are most likely to be affected.”

Check out the April cover story from Risk Management, “Welcome to America: Why Immigration Matters for Business,” for more on the risk management implications of immigration into the United States.

OSHA Releases Updated Workplace Safety and Health Voluntary Practices

To help medium and smaller-size businesses initiate effective safety and health programs, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration today released Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, an update of its 1989 guidelines, reflecting changes in the economy, workplaces, and evolving safety and health issues. The recommendations feature a new section on multi-employer workplaces and a greater emphasis on continuous improvement, OSHA said.

“Since OSHA’s original guidelines were published more than 25 years ago, employers and employees have gained a lot of experience in how to use safety and health programs to systematically prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health said in a statement. “We know that working together to implement these programs will help prevent injuries and illnesses, and also make businesses more sustainable.”

The recommendations include seven core elements for a safety and health program:

• Management leadership
• Worker participation
• Hazard identification and assessment
• Hazard prevention and control
• Education and training
• Program evaluation and improvement
• Communication and coordination for host employers, contractors and staffing agencies

Implementing recommended practices brings benefits to businesses that include healthier employees, fewer injuries and, ultimately, lower workers compensation costs:


  • Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Improving compliance with laws and regulations
  • Reducing costs, including reductions in workers compensation premiums
  • Engaging workers
  • Enhancing their social responsibility goals
  • Increasing productivity and enhancing overall business operations

Because management leadership is an important part of the equation, OSHA recommends that business owners, managers, and supervisors:

  • Make worker safety and health a core organizational value.
  • Be fully committed to eliminating hazards, protecting workers, and continuously improving workplace safety and health.
  • Provide sufficient resources to implement and maintain the safety and health program.
  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate their safety and health commitment to workers and others.
  • Set an example through their own actions.

To establish a program, OSHA said organizations need to create a written policy signed by top management that describes the organization’s commitment to safety and health. By creating specific goals and objectives, management sets expectations for the company’s managers, supervisors and workers. The goals and objectives should focus on specific actions that will improve workplace safety and health, OSHA said.

Water Scarcity Risk: Not Just a Local Political Issue

There are few issues as politically charged as water, not only because people’s survival depends on it, but also because it is a critical component of so many industries. Agriculture, food and beverage manufacturers, refineries, paper and pulp companies, electronics manufacturers, mining operations and power plants—are of these rely on a continuous and reliable water supply.

When companies move into markets with weak infrastructure or questionable rule of law, drawing on these resources can quickly bring them into conflict with local citizens and, sometimes, the host government. Because of its vital importance, however, water scarcity has become much more than a local issue for businesses.

Water shortages can lead to conflict as competition grows for diminishing resources, as any scarce resource on which people depend is likely to become political at some point in time. One scenario that repeatedly unfolds is as follows: A mining operation depletes local water resources or has a tailings dam accident that contaminates a local river, a protest ensues and the host government intervenes in the project. Hydroelectric power projects can create a number of similar political risks and some different ones, including relocation of local villages.

In recent years, however, awareness has grown about how water scarcity risk affects political risk at the national and international levels, requiring a different type of analysis. The depletion of rivers, lakes and streams has led to more dependence on below-ground water. More than two-thirds of groundwater used around the world is for irrigating crops, and the rest of below-ground water is used to supply cities’ drinking water. For centuries, below-ground water supplies served as a backup to carry regions and countries through droughts and warm winters that lacked enough snowmelt to replenish rivers and streams. Now, the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia and the Americas are under stress, with many of them being drawn down at unsustainable rates. Nearly two billion people rely on groundwater that is considered under threat.

What makes the problem particularly difficult to solve in the emerging markets is that small, often subsistence, farmers are doing the drilling for water. The U.S. military called climate change, including reduced access to water, a “threat multiplier,” potentially threatening the stability of governments, increasing inter-state conflict, and contributing to extremist ideologies and terrorism.

It is always difficult to establish causality with something as complex as politics, but there certainly is circumstantial evidence that water scarcity was a factor in the Syrian uprisings that led to the country’s civil war. In Yemen, some hydrologists warn the country may be the first to actually run out of usable water within a decade, and combatants are making a bad situation even worse by using water and food as weapons against opposing villages. In Sudan, desertification and water scarcity have been cited as having a strong link to the Darfur conflict.

Since water does not respect political borders, the conflicts can become international.  One of the most high-profile disputes has been Ethiopia’s damming of the Nile River for hydroelectric power, potentially threatening Egypt’s ancient water source. In 2013, Egypt’s then-president said he did not want war but he would not allow Egypt’s water supply to be endangered by the dam. Fortunately, in 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed an agreement allowing dam construction, provided that it did not cause “significant harm” to downstream countries. But the studies into how much harm it could do have not even been completed yet, and the dammed water could be diverted to uses other than power. Thus, the political risk surrounding the Nile River is far from over. Since 1975, Turkey’s construction of dams for irrigation and power have cut water flow into Syria by 40% and into Iraq by 80%, setting off disputes there.

Companies are accustomed to building water into their business plans in developing countries. Environmental impact assessments and proactive community relations programs can bring potential problems to the surface before they start, helping companies manage water in an environmentally and socially prudent manner. The geopolitical risks around water scarcity can be more difficult to manage, however. In this area, companies should consider building water scarcity into their political risk management and forecasting frameworks, factoring it in when making investment and supply chain decisions. If governments cannot find ways of sharing this limited resource, political violence risk may become even more of a factor for international businesses to consider.

This article previously appeared on Zurichna.com.

KCC Estimates $7B Insured Damages from Hurricane Matthew

Based on high-resolution storm surge, inland flooding and wind models, Karen Clark & Co. said today that it estimates insurers will pay $7 billion for damages in the United States resulting from Hurricane Matthew.

The storm weakened and stayed further off the Florida coast than was initially projected by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). While it stayed offshore, other than a brief landfall in South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew caused extensive wind, storm surge, and inland flooding damage.

KCC said in a flash bulletin that it tracked the event using forecast data from the NHC and RiskInsight’s advanced module, WindfieldBuilder, which automatically creates a high-resolution wind footprint for each storm advisory so that losses and numbers of claims can be estimated for specific portfolios along with the likely locations of claims.

Hurricane-force winds of more than 74 mph were experienced along limited sections of Florida’s coastline, most notably areas between Cape Canaveral and St. Augustine, damaging residential and commercial structures including roofs, windows, awnings, and signage.

As the track of the storm veered closer to the coastline near Savannah, hurricane-force winds again impacted properties along the coast, KCC said. The most impacted coastal areas include:

  • Daytona Beach, Florida
  • Tybee Island, Georgia
  • Hilton Head Island, South Carolina


Along the coast there were isolated pockets of significant storm surge and resulting property losses. As Matthew tracked parallel to the coastline for a distance, many other areas experienced minor storm surge damage.

The table below shows the measured precipitation for a few cities in North Carolina, where water levels are expected to exceed the 500-year flood levels for the second time in 20 years: