Friday, January 25, 2008

They are taking our American jobs!

The politics of envy and resentment is usually a left-wing populist position and is based on the premise that if someone else has more, you have less. Populist see the economic pie as fixed and think it is important that everyone have a more equal slice. Conservatives believe it is more important to bake a bigger pie than redistribute shares. They know that the size of the pie is not fixed.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of immigration, right-wing populist adopt the same politics of envy and resentment as their left-wing brethren. They see the number of jobs as fixed and believe that if an immigrant has a job then someone else lost a job. They often rant against immigrants “taking American jobs”.

The truth is that there is not a job that has your name on it. The government does not issue jobs. There is not a job fairy that reserves a job just for you. It is estimated that there are somewhere between 12 and twenty million illegal immigrants in America. If we assume the number is 16 million and most of them are working, we cannot assume that they displaced 16 million American workers.

While there has recently been a slight increase in unemployment, still the number of unemployed persons in America is only about 5 percent of the workforce which comes to about 7 and half million people. When you consider that at anyone time some people are always in the process of switching jobs, this is a relatively small number. If we were to erroneously assume that all 7 and half million would be working if the 16 million immigrants where not here, then that would still leave over 8 million jobs unfilled.

If we did not have the immigrant workforce however, would those who are now unemployed have jobs? No. A lot of the jobs are the jobs Americans do not want to do. An unemployed musician in Nashville, an unemployed construction worker in Chicago, or an unemployed office worker in Atlanta are not likely to move to Arkansas to pluck chickens. Most of them would not even except working for a lawn service company in their own city.

The immigrant population is not costing us “American” jobs but instead they are growing the economy. If we were to take 16 million workers out of the workforce, we would lose many more than 16 million jobs. By starting businesses, by supplying the labor needed for growing existing businesses, and by spending money in America, immigrants create more jobs than they fill. While immigrants increase the supply of labor they also increase the demand for labor. Many small companies would go out of business if they did not have their immigrant labor force.

If you talk to almost any employer who has employed immigrants he will tell you that they make good employees. They have a good work ethic and often work at jobs that employers would have a hard time filling. That they make good employees should not be surprising; after all, by self-selection these may be the best their native land has to offer. These are people who had the initiative to pull up stake, endure hardship and danger to come to a strange land where they did not know the language or the culture in order to have a better opportunity. They are obviously ambitious and adventurous. How many of us would do the same?

We live in a global economy where capital is flexible and can cross borders; we also need flexibility in the labor supply. Rather than shoot ourselves in the foot by removing 16 million hardworking people from the labor force, we need to recognize the value of that labor. It is time to establish a guest worker program.

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1 comment:

  1. Just a brief comment. I have 30 years of experience in IT as a high level consultant. Since 9/11, I have been forced to work frequently at secretarial jobs, do factory work, doggie daycare, and sell insurance.

    "Guest workers" comprise 52% of the IT workforce. I can tell you (because I've recruited, too, done just about everything now) that they LIE ON THEIR RESUMES and CHARGE LESS than their American counterparts.


    And I CANNOT FIND A JOB IN MY FIELD. I am told I am 'overqualified' -- even when the money would be identical to what the 'dotheads' would charge -- and that I would be 'bored'.

    Believe me -- I've taken stuff off my resume. I've even been forced to answer questions incorrectly during interviews just so I don't seem quite so 'experienced'.

    Since 9/11, I've had four 'professional level' IT jobs: a four month stint as a 'business analyst' - absolutely overqualified, budget cuts ended that contract; a four month stint at IBM as a Project Mgr working at home for 75% less than I've ever been paid - got a call one morning that I was one of 750 people laid off; a five month stint for a telecomm company as a Project Manager, no issues; and a 6 week stint at a major insurance company doing some strategic planning.

    THAT'S IT. IN ALMOST 7 YEARS. I have impeccable references. I am willing to do anything.

    I don't give a rat's petunia if they work hard -- so do I. I don't care that they have families to feed -- so do I. What I DO care about is that I can't find work because THEY ARE HERE.

    Oh, and by the way -- I was given a $5 tip a month ago when I was working wiping off tables and mopping the floor at the local mall's food court.