The Corner

Immigration and Jobs

Jonathan, no one around here is arguing that people are ‘entitled’ to a job. Americans, however, are entitled to an American government that puts their interests first. It’s quite possible to believe, as I do, that a limited skill-based immigration policy benefits this country, and thus its citizens. The importation of a large gastarbeiter class is something else altogether. It benefits no Americans other than the senior employees of a number of large corporations and, I suppose, cheapskates unprepared to pay up for ‘menial’ labor. Remember, in proposing a legislative change on this scale, the President has show not only that his scheme is not a bad idea, but that it is actually a good one. He hasn’t because he can’t.

Writing for UPI today, Martin Hutchinson, the agency’s resident gloomster, had this to say:

” There are a number of studies…that demonstrate that high immigration has had no effect on the living standards of low skill U.S. citizens. As any truck driver will tell you, such studies are unmitigated rubbish. To prove it, you only have to look at differential earnings since the early 1970s, when immigration began again to play a significant role in the U.S. economy, after the hiatus caused by the restrictive 1924 immigration legislation. If competition from immigrants had played no role in the economy, then whatever trend had been apparent before 1973 should have continued, with low skill workers maintaining their relative purchasing power.

“This did not happen. In the low-immigration period between 1958 and 1973, low skill male workers (high school or less) increased their real earnings by 50.5 percent, compared with 42.5 percent for those with 4 or more years of college. A modest narrowing of differentials, in other words, in a booming overall economy. From 1973, the income of those with postgraduate degrees (male and female — female figures were not available for 1958) increased more slowly, by only 17 percent. However, the average income of those with high school or less dropped substantially, by 9.5 percent, or by 16.2 percent if only male earnings are considered. For those without high school diplomas, the effect was even more severe — a drop of 19.1 percent, or 23.5 percent for males alone. Inequality between different educational cohorts has hugely increased. The labor force participation rate, 78.4 percent for college graduates in December 2003, is 63.8 percent for high school graduates without college, and a mere 44.6 percent for those without a high school diploma.

“This is what one would have expected in a period of heavy low-skill immigration, in which immigrant labor drives down the earnings of low-skill domestic labor. The increase in the great American “middle class” — by the U.S. definition, established blue collar labor, went sharply into reverse as immigrants forced down blue collar earnings.”

Now, I’m far from convinced that immigration is the primary explanation for this shift, although it may have been a contributing factor. I am convinced, however, that massive additions to the supply of cheap labor at this time, and after that performance, make no sense at all. The argument that “no Americans will do these jobs” is simply nonsense. They would if they were paid enough. And as for claims that crops would be unpicked without cheap immigrant labor, the right (if rather simplistic) response to that is that the agricultural industry needs to invest in a few more machines, machines incidentally, that would be built by exactly the sort of higher-paid blue collar workers now being betrayed by George W. Bush.