The Corner

Economy & Business

White House Says There Is Declining Demand for Low-Skill Workers, Then Calls for More Low-Skill Immigration

A new White House report on why low-skill men have been dropping out of the labor force received favorable coverage last week in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. Each media outlet repeated the report’s main conclusion, which is that labor-force dropout is due primarily to a decline in the availability of low-skill jobs.

However, none of those outlets noted the White House’s immigration hypocrisy. The administration has been claiming for years that the U.S. must have guest workers and amnesty for illegal immigrants in part because of “a lack of available workers” in low-skill industries such as agriculture and food service. The immigration reform bill supported by the White House in 2013 would even have created a new program (the “W visa”) that would add up to 200,000 low-skill foreign workers to the labor force.

Apparently, the U.S. needs more immigrants to meet the high demand for unskilled workers, but natives are dropping out of the labor force because of the low demand for unskilled workers!

The White House report contains additional contortions that I detailed in a recent piece for the Center for Immigration Studies. Perhaps most surprising is the report’s claim that immigrants do replace natives in the labor market, and that this is a good thing:

Although it would not directly boost the labor force participation rate of native-born workers, immigration reform would raise the overall participation rate by bringing in new workers of prime working age, offsetting some of the macroeconomic challenges associated with the long-run decline in prime-age male participation.

As I’ve written previously for NR, the decline in labor-force participation among low-skill native men is indeed a major problem that has not received enough attention. The causes are varied, and we should be willing to acknowledge, as NR’s Kevin Willliamson provocatively did, that part of the fault lies in the behavior of the men themselves. Nevertheless, the best way to give politicians and business owners a real incentive to solve the problem is to remove the crutch of low-skill immigration. Without the constant immigrant flow, getting low-skill natives back to work would become a pressing issue overnight.


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