The Corner

Does America Need More Hamburger-Flippers?

In the Wall Street Journal weekend interview, the CEO of Carl’s Jr., Andy Puzder, says that a “high percentage of our employees, particularly in California, are immigrants.” Isn’t the argument for importing low-skilled immigrants that they take jobs that Americans won’t do?  Farm labor is almost certainly one of those hard-to-fill jobs, but it’s news to me that working a fast-food counter is another — unless perhaps that niche becomes dominated by Mexican or Central American immigrants. A black kid from Watts is going to have a hard time getting hired at a Carl’s Jr. in South Central L.A. where all the employees speak to each other in Spanish. 

Puzder predicts that the high cost of Obamacare will force fast-food joints to automate their customer functions. That will be unfortunate, he says, because fast food is a “great level of job for people to enter the labor force.” True enough. But why do we owe that opportunity to unskilled Mexicans, rather than to Americans first of all? Why isn’t it Mexico’s responsibility to figure out a way to employ their high-school drop-outs?

Continuing to import large numbers of uneducated immigrants is also justified on the grounds that they will make our economy more competitive. Again, it’s hard to see how an ever-expanding pool of hamburger-flippers allows us to compete more successfully with China and Germany’s engineering sectors. Unless those immigrant fast-food employees skyrocket up the promotional ladder, they are going to be much heavier consumers of government services than higher-skilled workers, offsetting any minimal taxes that they may pay. And they are also unlikely to be starting new technology companies, as the ubiquitous Sergey Brin meme would have us believe about the entire universe of immigrants — educated and uneducated.

Heather Mac Donald — Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops

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