If one looks at the recent Associated Press list of the ten U.S. cities with the highest unemployment rates, eight of them are in California, one Arizona, and one Florida. You could make the argument than nine of the ten cities have high populations of illegal immigrants and children of immigrants (Merced, Stockton, Fresno, Visalia, Hanford, etc., are all on the list with 15–17 percent unemployment rates). How do these figures reflect conventional wisdom that illegal aliens only gravitate to those areas where there is the greatest demand for workers to do plentiful jobs which idle Americans won’t do?
I know that new home construction is almost nonexistent now in the San Joaquin Valley and that has hurt illegal immigrants, but most farm prices are still at record highs. Economists can sort out the paradox, but the data confirms what one sees with the naked eye (my home seems to be at ground zero of the AP list): Where there are fewer jobs, there are lots more illegal aliens. One fears the process becomes circular: The more a jobless region in the past continued to attract foreign nationals, the higher the attendant entitlement, school, and law enforcement costs — and the less likely new employers wished to invest in the local landscape, where problems of education, crime, language skills, and legality make the operation less competitive.
Moreover, California has the odd distinction of having the highest areas of unemployment and one of most generous arrays of state and local subsidies and entitlements. No doubt sociologists will have different takes on the economic pathologies of central California, but right now the process of massive illegal immigration to a region does not seem conducive to job creation. One might speculate that either a good number arrived not to find jobs at all but as spouses and children of illegal immigrants and now are looking for jobs, or the jobs illegal immigrants had were to the first to disappear in the recession, or they simply no longer wish to work at the hard jobs they initially took on arrival, or they are still working but for cash and off the books.
If the border remains open, employers continue to flee the area, and entitlements remain among the nation’s highest, there is no reason to believe that this cycle will not continue and 16 percent unemployment will become the new norm in central California. Maybe the dismal job news is why all the copper wire was recently stolen from my farm pump and we are on the fourth break-in this summer — with another two discouraged not to take what was not theirs.