The Corner

Economy & Business

No Natives Need Apply

In a case that went unnoticed by the national press, a major Houston-area food supplier was fined back in April for systematically favoring (mainly immigrant) Hispanic job applicants over (mainly native-born) non-Hispanic applicants. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Lawler Foods of telling black and white applicants there were no openings, discouraging them with horror stories about the nature of the work, and unnecessarily requiring Spanish-language skills. One hiring manager acknowledged “subconscious” bias against non-Hispanic applicants. Perhaps most tellingly, Lawler’s low-skill workforce is less than 1 percent black in an area where blacks are around 30 percent of the population.

There is little doubt that immigrants have been replacing native-born workers in unskilled jobs. Among working-age native men without a high-school degree, 40 percent are not even looking for work. The comparable figure for low-skill immigrant men is just 12 percent. Why such a disparity? Some argue that the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs and direct competition with immigrants has chased low-skill natives from the labor force. Others blame the welfare state and the weakening of social sanctions against idleness. Under the latter theory, low-skill natives do not feel pressure to work regularly, and they do not exert full effort even when they are on the job. That belief is likely Lawler’s real motivation for discouraging non-Hispanics from even applying.

Regardless of the causes, however, it is clear that immigration is serving as a band-aid over the problems experienced by low-skill natives. No one has to take their interests seriously as long as a steady flow of new immigrant workers ensures that businesses keep operating as usual. As I wrote in a piece for The American Conservative last week, “Instead of searching for ways to get native men back to work . . . politicians and businessmen have brought in immigrants to do the work instead. Imagine how their focus would change if there were no supply of new immigrants to harvest their vegetables, weed their gardens, or hang their drywall.” They would likely take a much greater interest in improving the prospects of low-skill natives.

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