Meanwhile, this bill would radically expand numerous immigration programs. According to Brad Plumer’s analysis of the Congressional Budget Office report on S. 744, over 36 million legal immigrants would be added to the United States population over the next 20 years if this bill were to become law; that’s over twice the 16.2 million legal immigrants that would be added under current law. Much of this immigration, Plumer has suggested, would be biased toward “low-skill” labor. There has been surprisingly little public discussion about the consequences for the American economy and for American workers of flooding the market with “low-skill” labor.
And then there are this bill’s guest-worker programs, which are highly suspect from both a free-market and an egalitarian perspective. There’s nothing free-market about creating a vast new government bureaucracy to monitor and set wages for temporary workers. Moreover, the free market’s claims to efficiency depend upon competition; a labor market saturated with guest workers — who are, compared to citizens or legal immigrants, far more dependent upon their employers and limited in their employment choices — undermines a free and fair competition for labor.
These legislative shortcomings pose significant problems for the future success of conservative ideas, Republican renewal, and the restoration of American economic growth. A single provision newly added to the immigration bill under Corker-Hoeven — the $1.5 billion “Youth Jobs Fund,” which would have states and local communities help find and fund jobs for young Americans — reveals in miniature how structurally damaging this bill is for the future of conservative success. This provision’s chief sponsor is Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who fought for the insertion of this provision in part because of his concerns about the bill’s guest-worker programs.
There’s nothing wrong with fighting for jobs for young Americans, and I, for one, find Senator Sanders’s concern for the unemployed and the average worker rather laudable. However, there would likely be many greater job opportunities for young Americans were it not for the pervasive use of illegal immigrants under current law — and S. 744’s emphasis on bringing in even more low-skilled labor (through its immigration preferences, its guest-worker programs, and its failure to end illegal immigration) would likely reduce job opportunities for the young even further.
According to the U.S. Census, the summer employment rate for American teenagers fluctuated within a relatively narrow band based on the economic cycle between 1949 and 1989, even as more young Americans went off to college. By the 1990s, as a new wave of illegal immigration (in part inspired by the Reagan amnesty) hit, that old pattern was broken, and youth employment entered an overall trend of significant decline. No point in the 1990s came near the peaks of teen employment in the 1980s. This trend accelerated after 2000. Between 1948 and 2000, the teenage employment-population ration never fell below 45 percent; since the 2001 recession, it has never been above 45 percent.
A study put out by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University finds that, in 2011 and 2012, only 26 percent of teens held any type of paid job (the lowest number since World War II). This study also finds that most of the states where teen workforce participation is the lowest are also states that have been hit hard by illegal immigration (Arizona, California, Florida, and Georgia are among the worst six states for teen employment). More broadly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment-to-population ratio of Americans between 16 and 24 years old has been under 50 percent for over four years; no point in the 1948–2008 period witnessed an employment rate that low for that long. Moreover, those from demographic groups designated as “minorities” have been particularly hard hit by this diminished employment rate.
The Congressional Budget Office, Senator Sanders, Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), and many other observers agree that S. 744 could very likely increase the unemployment rate and decrease average wages over the next decade. This bill’s solution to that problem is to create another billion-plus-dollar government program. The inclusion of the “Youth Jobs Fund” offers a very plausible forecast of what could happen should S. 744 become law: increased economic inequality, increased wage pressures on those on the economic margins, and increased government programs to compensate for the very economic conditions that this bill helped create. A feedback loop of economic decline and government programs intended to compensate for this decline is not a winning one for the Republican party or this country.