The UN’s Human Development Report

Jeni Klugman, director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report Office, visited NYU Wagner on November 19, 2009, and spoke to an audience about this year’s Human Development Report, of which the theme is migration.

In her talk, Klugman presented the key message of the report: overall, migration creates aggregate benefits for receiving countries and migrants.

Broader dimensions of how people fair beyond income, including health and education, were also examined in the report, she noted. Though, on average, migrants experience a three to four-fold increase in income, they also usually gain in health and education indicators as well. Some surprising facts were that the number of migrants as a percentage of the world’s population is the same as it has been since 1960–roughly three percent. Furthermore, most migration actually occurs within borders rather than between countries. Contrary to popular though, migration from developing to developed countries actually accounts for only 30% of all world migration.

The report shows that the effects of migration at the destination tend to be positive. There are no aggregate job losses and destination countries capture about one-fifth of aggregate gains–approximately $190 Million (US$). The World Values Survey shows that attitudes toward migration are much more nuanced than news headlines read. People prefer permanent over temporary migrants. Despite this information and a positive reception of the report overall, both physical and paper entry barriers are still high and being tightened further. This is because the recent recession has cut the demand for migrant workers. However, ageing and shrinking populations in developed countries foreshadow an eventual return in demand for migrant workers.

The diagnostic of the report recommends simplification and expansion of regular migration channels–particularly for low-skilled workers–conditional on labor demand; the ensuring of basic rights for migrants; reduction of transaction costs; improvement of the conditions in destination countries–particularly in developing countries; enabling of benefits to be gained from internal migration; and the making of mobility integral to national development strategies. Wagner’s Professor Natasha Iskander, a researcher of migration herself, emphasized the report’s statements and conclusions as being very bold, particularly in the U.S. political context. She also expressed her happiness with the positive global reception of and response to the report. Klugman responded that this positive reception may be in part due to the consultation process used in writing the report, which included regional nuances and priorities, as well as the particular attention paid to political economy. Whatever the reason, many are hopeful that this positive sentiment will be translated into more migrant-friendly policies, particularly at the national level.