Tuesday, September 22, 2015

22/9/15: Germany's IFO: "Refugees to Cost Ten Billion Euros"

Here is the full release from the Ifo Institute (emphasis in bold and comments in italics are mine):

"Ifo Institute Expects Refugees to Cost Ten Billion Euros

Munich, 22 September – If a total of 800,000 asylum-seekers do indeed come to Germany this year, as forecast by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, it would cost the state around ten billion euros. This figure does not take into consideration family members joining the refugees or any educational measures; and is therefore a conservative estimate.  [here is a useful, albeit dated, link on family reunification framework in Germany showing significant potential impact. More current data is covered here. In addition, while educational expenditures can be significant, part of the costs will be carried through apprenticeships and training schemes that are covered by employers and that involve productive work, contributing to value added in the German economy.]

The qualification structure of immigrants from the crisis-afflicted states of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan is probably poor. According to data from the World Bank, the illiteracy rate even among the 14-24 year old age group is 4 percent, 18 percent, 34 percent and 53 percent in these countries respectively. Even in the most developed of these countries (Syria) only 6 percent of the population has a university degree, which is not equivalent to a German diploma in many cases. Although refugees tend to be male and younger than the demographic average age, one thing is still clear: they are poorly prepared for the German labour market. In addition to language courses, Germany will also need to invest in training, which will generate extra costs. [We do not know exact quality of education and skills attained by the refugees, but applying average population parameters in this case can be fraught with some problems. For example, refugees coming through trafficking channels are required to pay up-front fees that are substantial in size, relative to average incomes. This means that there can be a strong selection bias in terms of refugees who reach Europe, compared to the average population in the country of origin - biases that tend to select more educated / better skilled and more financially enabled migrants. If so, their literacy rates and educational attainment status can be well above averages. In addition, undergoing a refugee journey implies very significant hardship, that is most likely known (at least partially) prior to the journey start. This can imply that refugees arriving into Europe may have stronger aptitude to succeed in integrating into new host society than those who remain behind. These biases are relatively well known in the literature on migrants flows in large scale migrations in the past.]
Many refugees will remain in Germany in the long-term and bring their relatives into the country. Migratory pressure from North Africa and the Middle East will remain high purely due to the demographical situation in these countries.  [This is correct, and the pressures are rising, not abating. The problem here is signalling: by openly accepting 800,000 refugees, German leaders have sent a very loud signal to the potential future refugees. Reality, however, is that such a signal will probably have only a marginal effect on refugees flows over time, since the main drivers (first order factors) pushing larger quantities of refugees into Europe - demographics, political and geopolitical instability, institutional deterioration, regional wars and conflicts, as well as issues such as climate change - remain acute.]

To avoid the refugee crisis becoming a long-term financial burden for German taxpayers, refugees have to get paid employment as fast as possible, so that they can meet their own living costs. There are fears, however, that many of them will not be able to find a job with a minimum wage of 8.50 euros in place because their productivity is just too low. It would be therefore be a good idea to lower the minimum wage across the board to prevent unemployment from rising.  [This is a matter for a separate analysis. While refugees initial productivity is likely to be lower, training and apprenticeship schemes should provide fast uplift in productivity for those who are well-enabled for such training. The key to limiting the cost of integrating refugees hinges crucially on several dimensions of German policy, namely: access to training, incentives to undertake training, quality of matching individuals to training opportunities, etc. Other considerations (for example pre-acceptance assessment of attitudes and aptitudes to integration) can help, but at this stage are not feasible except on a margin (for example prioritising processing of refugees who pass pre-acceptance assessments). Minimum wage coverage should not apply to apprenticeships and training schemes in general, in my view, and instead these activities should be covered by a separate minimum wage set below the normal employment-related minimum wage.]

Raising Hartz IV standard rates in the present situation is a very bad idea, as this would reduce incentives for refugees to look for work and generate an additional fiscal burden.
Model simulations by the Ifo Institute show that even in the case of a suspension of minimum wage legislation and Hartz IV rates remaining stable, the supposed immediate integration of immigrants into the German labour market does not stand to benefit the German economy. Although there are some labour market advantages, they are outweighed by higher unemployment rates and net transfers to immigrants.
Article: “Immigration: What Does the Domestic Population Stand to Gain?”  in: ifo Schnelldienst 18/ 2015; p. 3-12; a preview of the article is available at: http://www.cesifo-group.de/DocDL/sd-2015-18-battisti-etal-einwanderung.pdf "

Overall, a bold and interesting statement from Ifo (who are known for being bold), and a topic worth discussing.

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