Immigration hurts the poor


During my youth, I worked on a construction site and four different restaurants. A large percentage of my co-workers were immigrants, and I got to know their personal lives -- what it was like growing up in Central America, what their lives were like now. I also think of the kids in the multi-ethnic neighborhood where I grew up. For several years, I played on a league soccer team drawn from our housing development, and only two players had been born in the U.S. (Not me: I was born in Germany.) As you'd expect, we won almost every game.

So when I write about immigrants, I'm not just talking about the guys who cut my lawn. From first-hand experience, I can see how difficult it is for those in the lowest economic strata of our society...working two or three jobs, hoping they won't get sick, trying to survive in a very expensive area of the country.

To those of you who think illegal immigration is no big deal, I ask you this: why do you want to hurt those struggling workers? You may protest that you just want to give immigrants a chance at a better life. But admitting millions of unskilled or low-skill immigrants -- legal or illegal -- depresses wages among the poorest workers.

That point should be so obvious that only a fool or a professor would deny it. When they seek employment, workers don't apply for "a job," they seek jobs for which they are qualified. Employers such as restaurants and construction companies do not need to pay better wages or provide better working conditions, because they know they can replace their workers easily.

It will only get worse over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth will be almost exclusively in high-skill sectors. (Click the thumbnail to see the official chart.) Job losses will be in low-skill sectors (read the full article from the BLS.)

Yet if the Senate's immigration "reform" bill is enacted, it will increase, not decrease, the supply of low-end workers, as the number of low-end jobs dries up. We will have more people fighting for fewer jobs at lower wages.

Once again, could someone please explain what is "just" about that?


This would be hilarious if it wasn't so serious. We lay the blame at the foot of the immigrant because they take the low skilled jobs in agriculture, construction and housekeeping, while at the same time our pro-globalist trade policies export all our manufacturing jobs around the world.

There is a reason most of our new jobs are in the service sector - we have destroyed our manufacturing base by doing away with tariffs. Why should a company build VCRs in the US with labor at $20/hr when it can do it in China or India for $2/hr?

Why do you think there is so much pressure for these low-skilled jobs? Answer - because our "low-skilled" manufacturing jobs are GONE!! And they are gone at the behest of government lobbying traitorous AMERICAN COMPANIES who care more for their bottom line than their fellow citizen-consumers. Not to worry; it will all come crashing down soon and create a corrective - a painful corrective. We won't be able to afford their crappy toys anymore, and no other country will allow them to import without tarrifs to protect the locals.

why do you want to hurt those struggling workers?

Just to be clear - I don't want to hurt those struggling workers. But the correct question is why are those workers struggling in the first place? Is illegal immigration something that just popped up in the last five years? No - its been going on since...since...since as long as I can remember (which is at least 1977). While illegal immigration has an impact on those workers, it is because those workers have lost the manufacturing jobs as explained above. Somewhere in the millions of jobs since W came on board. So, immigration reform may lessen the pain a little bit, but it will continue to get worse for the "struggling worker" as long as we keep bleeding real jobs.

The U.S. hasn't "lost" its manufacturing base -- we have a huge manufacturing sector. It's just that our workers are incredibly efficient, due to the gigantic amounts of money our corporations devote to training them and giving them tools, particularly information technology, and their efficiency means that manufacturers don't need as many workers to produce the same amount of goods.

And why should the manufacturing sector drive U.S. economic policy in the first place? Why should the definition of a "real job" be working in a factory? The service sector has been the biggest part of our economy since the 1920s. It's the source of most high-wage jobs in safe conditions.

Anyway, that's beside the point. It's also unjust to enact protectionist policies that harm American consumers to benefit a small number of manufacturing jobs, but that has little to do with immigration.

The world-wide manufacturing base is being eroded because our ability to make stuff per person has exploded far beyond our increased desire for stuff even with the massive promotion of mindless consumerism. In the end, this is a good thing.

What is needed is an increase in job creation at the low-end skill level to suck up the labor that is being let go world-wide in factories that do not need so many people anymore.

Manufacturing is not the basis of the U.S. economy or the world economy. Only a minority of countries have ever had manufacturing-based economies, and only a handful are that way today (China being the most prominent example.)

Again, I don't see what that has to do with immigration.

Your argument: Immigration hurts the poor because it takes away low level unskilled jobs

My counter: Loss of manufacturing jobs is what hurts the poor because it takes away low level jobs

To the extent your argument against immigration is based upon hurting the poor through loss of low level jobs, the argument that exporting jobs overseas to plants in China, etc. causes an equal (or greater) loss of low level jobs is relevant.

It's also unjust to enact protectionist policies that harm American consumers to benefit a small number of manufacturing jobs

Wouldn't also be unjust to allow cheap imports just to benefit consumers to have that fifth VCRDVD player at the expense of someone being able to provide for his family?

Manufacturing is not the basis of the U.S. economy or the world economy.

There are only a few things that can be sold:

Natural resources, Things made from natural resources, Services

Services can be broken down into

Selling time, selling abilities, selling information/ideas. In the time category, there are things like TV time, Radio time, some hourly services (lawyers, engineers, entertainers - thought that may be a "flat fee") - these hourly services sometimes overlap with selling "abilities" - the lawyers, athletes, etc. and also include repairmen, cleaners, restaurants and other services. Selling information/ideas - teachers, trainers, stock brokers, (again, some categories overlap).

Of these "service industries" hardly a single one can operate without using either a raw material, a manufactured product, or both (either selling information about resources or products, or using them in selling time or abilities). A "service" economy is particularly vulnerable because it is not at the bottom, but rests upon the base of raw materials and manufacturing. If you lose control over those bases, you begin to lose control (to the extent you can ever have it) over your economy.

Our oil dependence is a perfect example. One person in Venezuela has more influence on our economy than Smith Barney.

The U.S. hasn't "lost" its manufacturing base

Then why does nearly everything I see in the store have "made in China" or some other country on it?

You seem to think that only one thing can hurt the poor. Even if you're right that our economy will go belly-up because we don't make DVD players or Happy Meal toys here in the good ol' U.S. of A., that has nothing to do with whether mass immigration hurts the poor.

From here on out, we're going to discuss immigration on this comment thread (assuming it continues). This isn't because I don't want to discuss the manufacturing sector, or have nothing to say, but because it's tangential.

c matt - All you see is "made in China" because you're not buying the sort of stuff that the US produces. Stuff that is highly price sensitive and quality insensitive is dominated by the PRC today because 1 billion people are entering the labor market there for the first time in decades and price sensitive/quality insensitive manufacture is best there at this time. This will change in the next ten years. The PRC is already starting to have spot labor shortages and significant wage inflation.

The solution is to create jobs that are relatively low skill in order to increase demand for labor in that segment. We can do that by demanding more hand-made goods and less mass produced goods (more labor intensive). We can do that by seeking more in terms of personal services, lawn care, errand runners, stuff that we do ourselves today but used to hire out. Create jobs and the low skilled will benefit.

Unfortunately, we've been making it harder to create jobs in the 1st world...

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This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on May 17, 2006 8:53 PM.

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