Notwithstanding copious evidence that the Gang of Eight bill will be devastating for low-skilled American workers, senate leadership insists on conducting a vote on the 1,200–page monstrosity before anyone has a chance to read it. Americans have a right to ask just who the senators think they represent.
The job market in Washington, D.C., may be sparkling, but it’s no secret that the employment picture for low-skilled Americans is abysmal. The national unemployment rate has been above 7.5 percent for four and a half years and millions have dropped out of the workforce entirely. Among those without a high-school diploma, the unemployment rate is 11.1 percent, and for blacks without a high-school diploma, it’s more than 24 percent. The labor-force participation rate is at historic lows and long-term unemployment is the worst since the Great Depression. The workweek is shrinking, as well as wage rates. Barely one in two black males has a full-time job. A record 48 million people are on food stamps.
Several weeks ago, my colleagues on the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom and Gail Heriot, and I sent a letter to President Obama and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus detailing the commission’s findings on the impact of illegal immigration on low-skilled workers — particularly black males. Evidence adduced before the commission shows that illegal immigrants have displaced large numbers of black workers in industry sectors with historically high concentrations of black employees. The evidence shows that immigration accounts for 40 percent of the 18-percentage-point decline in black employment rates over the last several decades. That’s hundreds of thousands of blacks thrown out of work, hundreds of thousands who can’t support families without taxpayer assistance.
Of course, the impact isn’t limited to blacks, nor is it limited to employment rates. Illegal immigration also drives down wage rates. For example, an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimated that as a result of the growth of undocumented workers, the annual earnings of documented workers — regardless of race – in Georgia in 2007 were $960 lower than in 2000. In the hospitality industry the decline was $1,520. Why should American workers suffer any decline in wages because of illegal immigration?
We haven’t gotten any response to our letter, even though it’s at least 1,195 pages shorter than the Gang of Eight bill. But why should they respond to us? After all, we’re just Americans.