On a EconLog post about E-Verify, commentor “Jay” writes:
I’m confused, if [E-Verify] poorly enforced and therefore only sparsely followed by employers, how does it raise hiring costs?
Jay’s question is an excellent one, and one that gets down into one of the main reasons we have deadweight loss (DWL) stemming from taxes and regulation. Taxes and regulations change behavior (if they didn’t, we’d only have a transfer of wealth from consumers/producers to the government and there would be no DWL). The obvious way they change behavior is when people adopt less efficient use of resources (in the case of E-Verify, hiring a worker who may be less productive over a worker who would be more productive because the first worker will pass E-Verify and the second worker won’t).
But evasion of those taxes and regulations are also a cost. For example, if an employer hires someone who would not pass E-Verify, and as such goes to lengths to ensure his hiring is not caught (paying him under-the-table, hiding him of INS come looking, that sort of thing), these are all extra costs being paid. Costs of time, or money, or effort that would otherwise have been spent doing something productive (and that’s not even counting the government’s cost of enforcement!).
These costs, while unseen, are very real. Employers face evasion costs just like anyone else, and will make decisions based upon them, even if they never show up explicitly as some budget item or in an official government report. These costs will change their actions, and we are all worse off for it.