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Immigration and the economy: Everything you believe is wrong

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | September 27, 2010

I am not an economist. As an anthropologist, I have been trying to write about things like cultural difference and the need for mutual respect across differences in our pluralistic nation.

So it fascinates me that comments on my posts repeatedly, and often irrelevantly, argue that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans, or that the costs of illegal immigration are bankrupting states and localities.

(Well, really, these commentators don’t make fine distinctions among immigrants who are legally in the US and those who come outside the legal system, primarily across the Mexican border. Sometimes it seems to me that these commentators include in their condemnation even those naturalized citizens who seem “different” to them. But let’s assume they would, if pressed on it, admit that immigrants allowed in the US legally, and naturalized US citizens, deserve to be employed as much as US citizens born here. So the sticking point is how migrants not admitted legally affect the US economy.)

Now Ezra Klein in the Washington Post has done us all the favor of pulling together data from research on this topic. He concludes, “the people who should most want a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants are the low-income workers who are most opposed to such plans”.

Why? because research shows that

immigrants raise wages for native-born Americans

they make things cheaper for us to buy here

if we didn’t have immigrants for some of these jobs, the jobs would move to other countries

Huh? I hear some of you saying; that’s not what I read/heard on the radio/think makes sense.

What you think makes sense is that there are only so many jobs, so an undocumented immigrant who has a job must be taking it away from a legal resident or citizen. But UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri finds otherwise in studies of data from the last two decades.

A report on his research published in March on the website of the George W. Bush Institute summarized the main findings:

Immigration leads to significant gains in productivity without any negative impact on the wages or employment of less-skilled workers and with a positive impact on the wages and employment on more highly skilled workers.

For every 1% of employment made up by immigrants in a state, overall wages rise 0.4% to 0.5%.

Ezra Klein points out that immigration provides “complementary” workers for the US economy, who take different jobs than the existing workforce.

This is the point that was theatrically underlined by the United Farm Workers’ recent campaign, “Take Our Jobs“. It offered to place legal residents in the kind of low pay, back-breaking work in agriculture that both legal guestworkers and undocumented migrants do. So far, only 7 applicants (out of 8600) actually accepted and stayed on these jobs.

An article by AP reporter Garance Burke reports similarly low numbers of takers in response to ads from farmers in a range of states for US citizens or permanent residents.

As Klein explains, the presence of immigrants as complementary workers expands the labor force available to do jobs that are lower skilled, lower paid, and simply not jobs most US workers will take. And that allows expansion of work that in turn creates better-paid jobs to organize the projects in which the low skill low paid workers are employed.

Think of it this way: if all those farmers are unable to get workers to pick their produce, their farms will fail and they will be out of work. If all those construction companies are unable to get workers to do the unskilled manual labor, the project managers, electricians, plumbers, architects, landscape designers, and other skilled workers will be unemployed.

Finally, having those low paid workers to do basic services keeps the cost of living down for everyone, which means your standard of living is better. Food in the US costs less because the labor costs of production are low because of unskilled migrant labor. Gardening, housekeeping, and a number of other things like dining out that are part of the dream of upwardly mobile skilled workers in the US would be unaffordable if it were not for the presence of lower paid migrant labor.

Klein’s column says we need to keep in mind research published in 2005 that claimed that native-born high school dropouts did lose jobs to undocumented migrants. But already in 2006, that study was contested by others that found the effects of competition for low wage, low skill jobs did not account for the well-documented drop in wages for high-school dropouts nationally. Comparing California, where such competition was likely a factor, with Ohio, where at the time it was not, studies found that high school dropouts saw their wages decline by 17% in California– and by 31% in Ohio.

The original study by Harvard economist George Borjas and his colleague Lawrence Katz estimated that wages of native-born high school dropouts declined 8.2% between 1980 and 2000 due to competition from unskilled migrant labor. But they also noted that number was not adjusted to account for the positive effects such migrant workers had in keeping some businesses alive and based in the US. The authors of the study noted that adjusting for those factors would reduce even their original estimated effect in half.

David Card, an economist at UC Berkeley, did an analysis that compared US cities where immigrants were part of the labor pool to those where they were not. His study, also published in 2005, found no differences in wages that could be attributed to the presence of immigrants in the labor pool.

Of course, you know which number got picked up in the media and used by pundits interested in encouraging xenophobic responses, right?

(Don’t believe me, Ezra Klein, or the researchers to whom I link? Try reading this report from the Brookings Institute.)

So now we get back on my territory, which is culture. Because the explanation for the continuing hysteria about illegal immigration and excessive claims about its effects on the economy is not rooted in knowledge; it is rooted in belief.

It is eerily like a concept developed about fifty years ago by a Berkeley anthropologist, George Foster, “The Image of Limited Good“. Foster was analyzing why rural peasants in Mexico were conservative. His explanation is complicated (it is, after all, anthropology, the social science that values the particularities as much as the generalizations). But fundamentally, it comes down to the sense that if someone else has something more than me, it must have come somehow at my expense.

The zero sum logic of employment that people apply to migrant employment in the US is related. If someone has a job processing chickens, and I am unemployed, even though I would not take that chicken processing job (or move to another state where such jobs exist), my unemployment, which puts me at a disadvantage, must somehow mean they are getting something at my expense. Even though the truth is, my ability to buy chicken at the grocery store at a price I can still afford by part-time work is dependent on their working for relatively low wages.

That sense that others advance at our expense is whipped up by pundits and politicians. The resentment that begins as a sense that someone else has something you should have spreads into a general account of why the other person is not worthy of the added benefit, so surely they obtained it in an unfair fashion.

I get the cultural basis of this. The only thing that puzzles me is, why don’t the unemployed who believe their jobs went to illegal immigrants resent the people who really did get something for almost nothing? why side with the rich and powerful who let down the workers of this country, who have increased their wealth while most people have seen their income and assets dwindle in value? why blame the poor and unprotected workers?

And that is where otherness comes in. People who are not like us. People whose motivations we don’t understand. What are they saying to each other when they chat on the bus in their foreign language?

This I do get. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I rode the bus back and forth to high school through a neighborhood full of people who hadn’t assimilated. They kept to themselves; they had their own churches, their own markets; they spoke among themselves on the bus in their unintelligible language.

They were Polish-Americans in a city with a proud and long history of accepting immigrants as a labor force that fueled industrial employment, employment that went away as company directors made decisions that rationalized how goods would be made and where they would be made by pursuing the cheapest possible labor elsewhere.

So I get the business of feeling like an outsider to an enclave. But overcoming this knee-jerk reaction against others is the core of our claim to establish a different way of being a nation.

And besides: I like having fresh vegetables I can afford. Don’t you?

Comments to “Immigration and the economy: Everything you believe is wrong

  1. Hi,

    Since this blog can be found on a Google search, here’s my 2 cents.

    1. The H1B allocation should be a world wide lottery system (i.e. Ireland, South Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Germany, Finland, ect.) , and not heavily weight to India (i.e. Tata, Wipro, etc.) or Communist China.

    2. At the very least H1Bs should not supplant American students coming out of US colleges every year.

    3. Make fake resume writing illegal, and getting pirated software (i.e. India or Communist China) to obtain a Oracle, Microsoft, IT certification illegal. **Make sure they show proof of purchase (not a shared license either). By the way with a population of over 2 billion between the two, it may be hard to prevent this but at least American companies can try.

    Here’s a snippet of how Americans are getting a raw deal:

    4. The UC Regents are using foreign students as their cash cow and not giving kids born and raised in California a chance to attend a good college in their home state.

    Is America Great Again?

  2. Nineteen eighty-six began the two most prosperous decades in the history of the world. That was when Ronald Reagan signed an amnesty for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Who has more irrational exuberance than a bunch of new immigrants? Consumer demand exploded as illegal immigration soared to new heights in the 1990s and into the new millennium. Who needs more than new immigrants do?

    For the rest of us, billions of dollars were freed up with all the immigrant labor making and doing things for us cheaper than we were willing to make or do things for ourselves. The whole situation created big opportunities for anyone able to envision what people wanted for all of their new found wealth and a way to provide it.

    It may seem counterintuitive to think that it was the high levels of illegal immigration that caused unemployment to fall to levels once thought unattainable, but for those two decades even foreign nationals with no immigration papers who spoke little or no English could get a job. Today, things are much different.

    After comprehensive immigration reform was defeated in Congress in the summer of 2007, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced plans to crackdown, even in the workplace. He warned of economic hardship. Some argued that getting rid of ‘illegal’ workers would make more jobs for legal workers. We started e-verifying about three years ago and millions of people have self-deported, but unemployment has doubled.

    There was a sudden drop in demand for goods and services that resulted in widespread job losses. There was a drop in demand for housing, especially in regions of the U.S. where most of the unauthorized immigrants had been living.

    Having our array of job skills diminished caused the biggest upset to the economy. The exodus of the self-deporting took away millions of hard-to-replace key workers along with many hard-to-find job skills. The disruption was tremendous. It turns out that people are not interchangeable. It was like a double whammy. The loss of demand and the loss of key workers with hard-to-find job skills caused many businesses to cut back or close operations. Most jobs ’illegal’ workers had been doing have been eliminated along with many of the jobs legal workers were doing. That’s why unemployment is so high now. Our standard of living has fallen because we no longer make so much from so little.

    Though a great convenience, fiat money is a poor substitute for human action as the Federal Reserve is finding out. That’s why being a magnet for cheap immigrant labor may be our most valuable comparative advantage. Only people can create things that other people want. Making things that other people want is how demand is created. The leverage of having something others want is the source of the new demand for the successful seller. Value is subjective. With more people, it is easier to make something that someone else wants.

    Immigration gives us a greater diversity in what people want and a larger array of human action skills. With all that diversity we get a lot of new and different. More than just stylish fun, new and different is the business model of our nation. It is an ingenious secret to making even more from perhaps a bit less. Making more from less is the hallmark of capitalism.

    In the summer of 1929, restrictive quotas were implemented over the objections of many business groups. The changes were designed to reduce the flood of desperate refugees from Eastern and Southern Europe to a trickle. Immigration fell by 90% setting a record low of around 500,000 during the 1930s.

    Asians had been banned as a class already by the early 1920s. While immigration remained quota-free for nations in the Western Hemisphere, stepped up deportations demonstrated that anti-immigrant sentiment trumped the rules. Legal residents and even natural born citizens were subject to abrupt deportations. At least it was easy enough to get back into the U.S. back then. The anti-immigrant sentiment was expressed by the concern in Congress that too many people who weren’t like the people already here might change our national character, whatever that was at that time.

  3. As a landscape gardener, I am not familiar with the problems you are all facing here but in the UK there is a lot of resentment towards Europeans who travel to the UK and recieve full Supplement Income which they will not have paid into. There is also resentment over the lowering of wages caused by this problem.

  4. Ms. Joyce,

    I realize this is an aging blog stream but I thought I might inject my two cents into the ether here. If you look at the skilled but non-college degree holding middle class male worker in America you might be able to see the real picture. As inflation and the cost of living have risen higher and higher, middle class wages have remained stagnant. At the same time, over the last 30 years we have seen two other increases, women having to join the labor force to keep up with the Jones’ and increased illegal immigration. I am all for educated workers coming here and staying here, working here, and living the American dream. I am not in favor of any immigrant working here and then shipping money back to their home country. The goal is to bring people up, not support a system that is pulling people down. I am all for a revamped worker visa program for low paying jobs. But my main point is the wages of the middle class worker, most noteably the male. Jobs that used to, when adjusted for inflation, provide an American Middle class lifestyle were never and will never be this specific low paying jobs that illegal immigrants are taking you point to. I have worked in and around every level of the real estate boom all accross the mid-west, and up and down the east coast from Brooklyn to Miami. The real size of the cash economy in this sector alone destroys your arguement, but these skilled illegal immigrants have slowly and steadily chipped away at the middle class standard of living. The public or uncovered consumer of government services is an individual who resided on the bottom half of the stratisification and adding more consumers who are not adding more value back is illogical. When you add up all value over an entire lifetime it is a wash for the services taken back out, when you really consider everything, not just cherry pick. I can beat you up with any amount of data but I believe that you have boxed yourself in by your own ideology. I am not a racist, I am for all peoples equality and raising all peoples standard of living. We, you, are so short-sided and lack a real appreciation for the the true value of our system, our degree of freedom, and the standard of living that was given to us all. We have not really had to work for it and we no longer understand the cost of freedom, or our standard of living. I don’t fault any immigrant for coming here looking for a better life, but we shold just look for the facts that support our arguements we should look under the hood of the data at the real world. Come on down, or we will come see you soon, you will definitely build a fence then. Oh ya and by the way I am an immigrant.

  5. California’s population swells by over 400,000 per year, ALL from immigration.* Our state is a basket case. This academic seems to think that the path to the future is continued high levels of immigration. If she/they are correct then how about doubling or tripling immigration? Certainly our lives will be better with a California at 50 million, 75 million, a 100 million.
    It astounds me to see otherwise intelligent folks support the Ponzi scheme of mass immigration. Perhaps one of these folks can explain how we are to achieve a sustainable energy future with continued high levels of immigration induced population growth, or preserving open space or grappling with our infrastructure problems.

    California’s Population Growth 1990-2002 – Virtually All from Immigration

  6. Great article although it’s sad to see that people are willing to look the other way regarding immigration to have cheaper food on the table. It’s exploitation at the very least.

  7. Making life cheaper for us by using illegal alein labor is just another ploy to keep wages stagnant. Given the fact that American’s were encouraged to practice birth control and to curtail the population explosion, one has to wonder why then should we be encouraged to receive foreigners who increase the population when reproduction was discouraged among US citizens?

    • Carols,

      Have you ever picked strawberries? I have, it’s labor intensive. Do you eat vegetables? Do you know where they come from? Did you read the entire article?

      Now say all your wishes came true and there were no illegal immigrants or legal immigrants for that matter, picking your strawberries or vegetables. When do you suppose a “skilled” natural born American will ever pick berries? Would you assume they shouldn’t have to? Would you give up eating them all together if there was no supply?

      How many illegal immigrants do you suppose are begging for money on the street (pan handling)? How many able bodied American Naturally Born citizens do you suppose are pan handlers?

      “The national law center on homelessness and poverty estimates that there are about 1 million people who are homeless in the United States.” The largest percentage of homeless people are able bodied males, did you know that? Do you suppose that number would decrease if say they took those vegetable picking jobs???

  8. Let’s see, I’m in California and working for approximately 10 weeks a year to feed the state government. This consists of my income tax (11% less Federal Deduction of 3% yields 8%, or approximately 4 weeks), sales tax for anything I buy (8%+) and property tax.

    Oh yes, my state has 12% of the nation’s population and 32% of the nation’s welfare cost. Since we “pay” our welfare recipients so well, they choose not to clean houses, dry cars at the car wash, mow lawns, etc. Instead, I get to support them.

    And, I also get to provide benefits for the illegals that my neighbors employ to mow their lawns, clean their houses, and wash their cars. They get better medical care than they would get at home, along with a better education for their children.

    And the professor doesn’t think that both paying people not to work and subsidizing others doesn’t impose an economic burden?

    • They don’t. Illegal immigrants also pay taxes. The professor, if you actually read the article isn’t “thinking” they are not an economic burden, she’s stating FACTS of why they are not. Contrary to your belief, over 70% of the welfare population is either black or white between the ages of 20-29 that stay on welfare well over 5 years. What is wrong with people… do your research!

      So you’re not really paying for illegal immigrants to be on welfare, they’re paying for you… without the possibility of collecting as social security.

  9. Although Professor Joyce’s simultaneously evaluates the economical/cultural aspects of the “immigration debate” with pinpoint precision I cannot help but squirm while contemplating some of the underlining causal factors overlooked proponents and opponents of the issue. Unless people do not begin to thoroughly analyze how various nation-states have historically molded the contemporary societal structures that create such economical, social, political inequality then what will become of the people? Are the people in question to remain in subservient positions abroad (to provide people with cheaper groceries) or eke out a living in their homelands further adding to the disparity between the rich and powerful and the poor and powerless?

    • In an ideal world, economic inequality within and between nations would not exist.

      We do not live in an ideal world. But we do live in a world where borders between nations that provide different economic possibilities create an inevitable pattern of movement back and forth.

      Or they did, until the US began to attempt the impossible: to completely cut off that cross-border movement. So now, people who succeed in entering the US are less likely to be easily able to return home.

      If we stopped trying to pretend the border could be shut; and acknowledged that many basic aspects of US life depend on the labor of undocumented immigrants; and supported increases in the minimum wage so that those (citizens and undocumented immigrants alike) who are willing to undertake these jobs would earn a living wage; and raised everyone’s wages so that radical increases in food costs would not lead to stratification of access to food; we could at least begin to leave behind an overly exploitative system.

      Meanwhile, I make no apology for combating directly the arguments of those who have been persuaded by demagogues that undocumented workers are somehow stealing their jobs, when the data do not support that.

  10. By virtue of all the collated data presented on the many comments to all the many letters fielded here, America is full!And the countryside can’t support 300,000,000 we now host who call this place home.All but the very wealthy are going backwards,80% of wage earners only make 3.7% of the wages.

  11. Increased “productivity” in any endeavor is due to increased use of fossil fuels. This argument is hard to make in a sound bite, as most discourse is done now, so I recommend Gever’s 1991 “Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades”.

    We’ve reached the point where civilization’s source of energy, fossil fuels, has peaked and will soon decline. The exponential rise in population and energy exactly match each other. That means that Malthus is finally going to get some respect, as there were less than 6 billion humans before fossil fuels became the engine of growth and allowed us to exploit four continents and continue to grow for four centuries. But now we’ve overshot the carrying capacity of the planet by at least 25% according to scientists at the National Academies of Science. Energy is the master resource that has allowed us to deplete the fisheries, forests, topsoil, aquifers, biodiversity, and so on beyond replenishment – resources that keep us alive.

    Our population is mainly increasing from legal and illegal immigration and the higher birth rate of immigrants. More people means more suffering as resources inexorably decline from now on.

    Scientists estimate the carrying capacity of the USA without fossil fuels is 100 million (Professor David Pimentel at Cornell) to 250 million (Vaclav Smil, author of “Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production”).

    I was just in Australia where food cost more than in the USA because agricultural workers were paid a living wage. But food was affordable. People coped by eating out less. Everyone is paid a living wage. The unfairness of our system was staggeringly obvious, wealth is so obviously not being distributed fairly in America.

    So the idea we need to have more immigrants and that businesses can endlessly grow on a finite planet is absolutely insane. People will and can do jobs they don’t like when their unemployment runs out and they have to. Less fossil fuel power will create a need for more muscle power.

    What’s needed are laws to prevent the slavery and brutal treatment of farm workers as described in Richard Street’s “Beasts of the Field. A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913”.

    What’s needed are a million new farming families rather than huge farms with thousands of poorly treated farm workers.

    We need to reverse the tragic industrialization of the food system as described in Richard Stoll’s “The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California”, Richard Walker’s “The Conquest of Bread. 150 years of Agribusiness in California” and Jim Hightower’s “Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times: A report of the Agribusiness Accountability Project on the Failure of America’s Land Grant College Complex”.

  12. I am gaining in confidence because, much of the data that is collected by
    the dept of labor is patiently manipulated to reflect the fear that America can’t function without foreign labor … false. The main reason politician
    use the fear tactic is to avoid the wage issue for the middle class.I contend that 75 bucks an what it must be to have a quality of life worth living.After taxes @ 32% tax rate you take home 8,160 bucks,1600 mortgage,500 food,200 electricity,100 water,65 natural gas,Car payment 450,
    insurance 150 per mo, disposable income maybe no longer applicable,money put away for kids going to collage? clothing,house maintenance,car maintenance,vacation,entertainment,gasoline for two cars per mo 400.This I think would be for a family of four,3465 without many of the intangibles.

  13. if we didn’t have immigrants for some of these jobs, the jobs would move to other countries

    So what? Lettuce picking jobs move back to Mexico. Big deal.

    By the way (immigrants raise wages for native-born Americans) ?


    Not true.

    • Well, if you want US farming– and all the additional jobs it generates, including those of the owners of farms; and the people who make the goods and provide the services that the farm workers and farmers buy; then sure, send lettuce picking jobs, and chicken processing jobs, out of the country. Why not send all jobs out of the country? oh wait. At some point, it is your job that goes.

      And as for the research on the relationships between immigrants being part of the workforce and income overall– read the research to which I linked. Unless you reject research as a basis for rational debate.

  14. The clarification is appreciated, especially your statement “the one thing I ask is that you blame the employer, not the person being exploited” is my point exactly. When will employers be held accountable?

    • But we come back to the critical central issue: while I do not deny that there are instances in which an employer may choose to hire undocumented workers where legal residents and citizens exist who would like the same jobs, that is not the main national reality: some industries would collapse for lack of labor willing to accept even the legal minimum wage to work under inherent difficult conditions like those of agricultural work. If the US government somehow achieved perfect enforcement in employment, we would face a disastrous shortage of labor for many almost-invisible kinds of work on which we depend. Current immigration policy creates a vulnerability that has to be solved, but there is no political will to solve it because it has proven so easy and productive for politicians to use fear of immigration as a whip.

      And there are related policy issues: testimony in current hearings in Congress by some employers suggested they could get legal residents and citizens to take the jobs they had on offer if the minimum wage were higher. But the same politicians who rail against “illegal immigration” block raising the minimum wage.

      The way these politicians get away with it is by distracting people whose economic interests actually are aligned with those of undocumented workers by encouraging them to fear these others. So my plea is: don’t get distracted. Focus on what is really going on here, which is a national failure to come to grips with the way our economy works, and the fact that it requires this less skilled labor force and will get it, one way or another.

  15. The research you cite is funded by the US federal government, which has been highly pro illegal immigration for decades. It is therefore highly suspect, just as research into the harmfulness of smoking funded by tobacco companies is suspect. Do you have any research that is from neutral organizations?

    • The self-correcting nature of research comes from the fact that independent researchers can return to the same questions, using data that are available to others so they can conduct their own independent research. In my post, this is exemplified by the different researchers who pursued the question of impacts on less-educated workers in ever more precise ways.

      I reject your assertion that research funded by federal grants is “highly suspect”. That’s absurd and the kind of argument advanced by the people who want to create fear, uncertainty, and distrust. And in relation to the research I cite, it is also just false. The Brookings Institute report, to which I linked, summarizes data from a wide range of studies, some drawing on Census data and Homeland Security data, and other government data sources. But it also draws on research funded by independent foundations, including the Kauffman Foundation and the Pew Memorial Trust. Other well-respected foundations have supported related research, including the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

      Foundations are in fact among the most important sources of information about immigration policy and its effects in this country. For readers who might actually want to learn more, I recommend the Russell Sage Foundation which finds that children of current immigrants in fact are following the same path as immigrants of previous generations, with 90% identifying English as their main language and achieving fluency, for example. As with previous waves of immigration, current immigrant groups see each generation achieving more in education, careers, and earnings.

      A particularly relevant body of research funded by the Russell Sage Foundation resulted in a book published in 2008 about how immigrants are faring today as they end up in communities that have not historically been destinations for large scale immigration. The summary the Foundation gives on its website is worth citing in full here, because it precisely underlines what my post is about: the cultural experiences that are raising tensions even though research suggests immigrants help economic growth.

      The type of reception immigrants receive appears to depend largely on the cultural diversity of the local population, the way political leaders respond to the arrival of new groups, and whether or not the new arrivals are regarded as competitors for scarce housing and jobs. Some studies find evidence that native-born residents fear that immigrant newcomers bring crime, economic competition, and an increased tax burden to the communities in which they settle. Many native whites are also concerned that immigrants are not assimilating culturally – that they are not learning English or doing things the “American” way. Survey data show that such perceptions are strongest among native-born citizens with the least education living outside of major metropolitan areas. Other studies suggest that in some places immigrants are being met with more welcoming attitudes. One local survey reports that native whites generally express positive feelings toward Hispanic immigrants, and two-thirds agree that Hispanics make a contribution to the local economy. Another study details how Hispanic men initially recruited to work in agriculture and food processing have moved into a wider variety of occupations, and some local employers have shifted from grudging acceptance of immigrant workers to active efforts to hire more. The current economic recession throws some of these more positive findings into question since the economic downturn increases the possibility that immigrants will be viewed as unwanted competitors for scarce jobs. In short, the overall picture indicates a high degree of ambivalence toward the new arrivals, with a gradual increase in levels of acceptance based primarily on the degree of contact with the new groups.

      • “As with previous waves of immigration, current immigrant groups see each generation achieving more in education, careers, and earnings”

        That’s not true of Mexicans, the largest immigrant group. See Generations of Exclusion:

        “In many domains, however, the Mexican American story doesn’t fit with traditional models of assimilation. The majority of fourth generation Mexican Americans continue to live in Hispanic neighborhoods, marry other Hispanics, and think of themselves as Mexican. And while Mexican Americans make financial strides from the first to the second generation, economic progress halts at the second generation, and poverty rates remain high for later generations. Similarly, educational attainment peaks among second generation children of immigrants, but declines for the third and fourth generations.”

        In your opinion, why does America need more high school dropouts?

        See also the research of Robert Putnam:

        “[A] massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.”

        • It helps if you cite the actual conclusions that Telles and Ortiz reached in Generations of Exclusion about the causes of Mexican American progress slowing in the second generation. To quote:

          Telles and Ortiz identify institutional barriers as a major source of Mexican American disadvantage. Chronic under-funding in school systems predominately serving Mexican Americans severely restrains progress. Persistent discrimination, punitive immigration policies, and reliance on cheap Mexican labor in the southwestern states all make integration more difficult. The authors call for providing Mexican American children with the educational opportunities that European immigrants in previous generations enjoyed. The Mexican American trajectory is distinct—but so is the extent to which this group has been excluded from the American mainstream.

          So no, I don’t want more high school dropouts: so I assume you will join me in advocating for more equitable funding of school systems in the US? And for changing our current “punitive immigration policies”? And living wages? Or do you just want to remain complacent about the ill effects of our current wrong-headed policies?

          And let’s add what you omitted about Robert Putnam’s research as well, from the very article you cited:

          The study is part of a fascinating new portrait of diversity emerging from recent scholarship. Diversity, it shows, makes us uncomfortable — but discomfort, it turns out, isn’t always a bad thing. Unease with differences helps explain why teams of engineers from different cultures may be ideally suited to solve a vexing problem. Culture clashes can produce a dynamic give-and-take, generating a solution that may have eluded a group of people with more similar backgrounds and approaches.

          Putnam himself argued that “the negative effects of diversity can be remedied”, and stated that

          “It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.”

          Ready to admit that it is “ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism” to treat the negative effects of cultural diversity as unchangeable, and as reasons to argue for homogeneity?

  16. Well written and definitely worth my time. One small item: Making things cheaper for us to buy is NOT a good thing. It’s this ‘buy more cheap crap’ habit that has turned us into hyperconsumers, which in turn is leading to a ruined world.

    If anything, things need to get more expensive. Consumption habits must slow dramatically. Just a minor point, but with major implications. Don’t ask for cheaper anything…beg for a system in which all goods bear the true cost of the damage they do to our environment and health.

    • Ah, Tod, I would agree with you except for two things. The first is that making basic food more expensive will simply increase the differential access to nutritious food that has long existed, an unremarked aspect of the class stratification that US politicians like to ignore.

      If we increase the price of those things that come from the labor of immigrants without increasing the income of the poorest among us, we simply contribute to stratification.

      So I will continue to argue for equitable access to food that people with low incomes can afford until the minimum wage in this country is raised to be a living wage, and until we have a solid social contract that guarantees enough resources to everyone to live at that standard.

      When people in university circles rail against consumption, I don’t think about big cars or “cheap crap”: I think about these things. And about why cars are not luxuries, but necessities if you want to have a job– increasingly necessary as we eliminate the buses that are the last remnants of real public transit.

      Talk to me about a social contract first, because I think decrying consumption is a luxury that only those with secure financial support can afford.

  17. It is obvious that you care very much about the documented and undocumented workers which is understandable because they are real human beings with similar hopes and dreams.

    If I am interpreting your statements correctly, it is your perception that undocumented immigrants working in the United States,do not impact jobs or wages. (from my perspective, documented workers are as legal as you and I) That American citizens who were replaced by undocumented workers in jobs which use to provide benefits and use to pay a living wage are either lazy or crazy to want those jobs. Often these jobs had flexible schedules or where close to home, which is good for families. Or is it your perception that employers would not do this to good employees?

    Sincerely, this is not a knee-jerk reaction but a request for clarification.

    • Ella, I am profoundly respectful of anyone who undertakes any of the kind of backbreaking, profoundly under appreciated labor that is typically where undocumented migrants end up. So no, I do not think anyone who wants to do this work is crazy– and I don’t even understand how someone could think hardworking people were lazy.

      But I think you are missing the point here. My post is not my “perception” about the impact of undocumented workers on wages. It is based on research about how undocumented workers affect the economy. Not my perceptions: objective facts. And these objective facts show that immigrant workers are indispensable to our economy; that with them, better paying jobs are made available to others; and that without them, many things now being done would fail. Farms fail when they cannot get the laborers they need. Farmers in the US are in crisis and have been for a long time.

      I specifically cited the only research that found systematic negative impacts on US laborers from the availability of competitive immigrant labor. These are studies of high school dropouts in the US, because the undocumented immigrant laborers that have sparked the current hysteria are not competitive for jobs that require a high school education or beyond. Even here, in the least skilled sector of employment, the actual effects on lower skilled US workers are either very low (the Harvard study authors revised their estimate of pay drop down to 4.8%) or non-existent (David Card’s comparative study).

      Does that research mean that there aren’t any cases of individual employers who chose to exploit an undocumented immigrant in order to pay less than a US citizen or legal resident would ask for? Does that research mean that there are no cases where an employer chose to employ an undocumented immigrant knowing this worker would not report that the employer was not paying required benefits, or that working conditions were unsafe? Of course not. Individual bad actors can be found anywhere, and if someone you know was fired and replaced by an undocumented immigrant, the one thing I ask is that you blame the employer, not the person being exploited.

      Ironically, as long as politicians can avoid having a sensible discussion of immigration reform– which would have to include a route to citizenship for the millions of people already living here, integrated into communities and contributing to them, and which probably would include some expansion of existing means to hire temporary labor from outside the US– as long as politicians can avoid that debate, the chances that some exploitative employer will take that step are higher. Our enforcement efforts don’t solve this part of the problem. They are expensive and divert resources from other efforts. And because the laborers employed by such exploitative employers have no protections, and are under immense pressure from the enforcement efforts underway, they are not in a position to report these abuses.

      Finally, I have to say: of course documented immigrants are “as legal as you or I”. But a lot of debate about the issue of immigration– especially those discussions that emphasize cultural discomfort with language, or religion– include legal immigrants, and even native-born citizens, in the category of those they are encouraged to resent and fear.

      The economic erosion that came with the great recession we are still living through differentially affected people in this country. Some groups are still finding employment with relatively little difficulty. Those encountering the most difficulty tend to be the least skilled and least educated, and it is shameful that pundits and politicians are trying– sometimes successfully– to encourage those suffering the most to resent other powerless people who research shows are here because we need them, and who actually contribute to strengthening our economy.

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