Immigration Reform's Winners and Losers in the Workplace
By Marty Nemko
40 million. That’s how many illegal and amnestied illegal immigrants are projected to be in the U.S in just ten years, according to Roy Beck, Executive Director of NumbersUSA, a nonprofit research organization. He said that any of the immigration bills currently considered by the Senate will “result in 30 million green cards issued "plus at least another 10 million illegal aliens enticed by the amnesty."
Because that number seemed so high and NumbersUSA advocates controlling illegal immigration, I verified the number with Gabriel Escobar, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center, an organization that is generally encouraging of expanding immigration. He said, "I have no data that would invalidate that number."
Such a profound change in the American workforce will, of course, create winners and losers. Consider these as you do your career planning, whether you’re an employee, employer, or thinking of starting a business:
Employers. Employers already hire millions of illegals. Mass legalization will simply add to the pool of cheap, compliant labor for employers to choose from” says Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C. think tank News You Can Use: If you’re thinking of starting a business, consider one that utilizes low-skill workers that needn’t speak English, for example, construction, landscaping, or a restaurant. The latter is doubly benefited: low-skill labor cuts both a restaurant’s food and labor costs.
Illegal workers. According to Escobar, "Illegal workers in the U.S. earn eight times as much as the average worker in Mexico. And as soon as they cross the border, they have no trouble finding a job," Slavia Jimenez, policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza a nonprofit that advocates for Hispanic rights, adds, “The economic conditions of illegals increase dramatically when they get legal. Then, they can organize (unionize) for better wages and benefits.” News You Can Use: If you are an undocumented immigrant, use your newfound political clout to get the Senate-proposed (not the House version) legislation passed. For example, contact the National Council of La Raza (www.nclr.org,) or the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. (www.maldef.org. )
The illegal unemployed. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 5.9 million of the current 12 million illegals are not employed. Jimenez explains, "Most are grandparents, spouses, children, and some unemployed people."Those illegal unemployed will be beneficiaries of mass legalization because they will become eligible for a wider range of taxpayer-provided services. U.S. taxpayer largesse has already given illegals, working or not, free emergency (defined largely by the patient) health care and free public education, including, in many states, in-state college tuition. Legalization would, in addition, enable illegals to--without using fake ID as many currently do--receive more taxpayer-funded health care, welfare, social security, housing, and other public assistance benefits reserved for legal residents. News You Can Use: See above.
Certain college-educated job seekers. News You Can Use: Thousands of government employees will be hired to administer the provisions of mass legalization legislation and to provide the government-funded services that the largely low-income population of immigrants will want: English-language and bilingual/bicultural education programs, health care, public assistance, subsidized housing, etc. And because government jobs are becoming the last bastion of job security and pensions, a government job may be particularly desirable. Of course, it will be very helpful if you learn Spanish and understand Latino culture.
Legal residents of the U.S.--both immigrant and native-born--who don’t have a high school diploma. Escobar believes that the massive influx of low-skilled illegals, 70 percent of whom have not finished high school, will decrease the need for low-skill legal residents. African-Americans will disproportionately be affected because they have the highest dropout rate among legal U.S. residents. A poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that nearly twice as many blacks as whites said that they or a family member had lost a job or not gotten a job because an employer hired an immigrant.
In a well-documented example, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported the case of the tomato industry. A legal unionized workforce had picked the tomato crop in San Diego County for many years. Then, employers switched to crews of illegals and cut salaries to minimum wage whereupon almost all the veteran legal workers who refused to work at that rate disappeared from the tomato fields. Krikorian points out that despite America’s current low unemployment rate, 4.7 percent, unemployment in the California Central Valley, California’s agricultural heartland is already in double digits. Additional unskilled labor will drive unemployment among legal residents (especially legal immigrant residents) even higher.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a DC-based research organization advocating reduced illegal immigration, reports that displacement of legal U.S. workers occurs well beyond industries the public normally associates with illegals (agriculture, construction, and hospitality.) For example, "In the furniture industry, competition from immigrant-laden plants in Southern California closed all the unionized plants in the San Francisco area and removed natives from the workforce in favor of underpaid aliens.”
According to a National Academy of Sciences report, "immigration has been responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the wage depression for workers without a high school degree in recent decades.”
Krikorian insists, “The notion that there are millions of jobs Americans won’t do is a myth. Yes, there are jobs that college-educated Americans won’t do, but there are millions of low-skilled legal workers--native born and legal immigrant--who are not only willing to do those jobs, they’re already doing them. Yes, in a few cities in which illegals cluster, for example, Phoenix and Los Angeles, some job categories are dominated by illegals, but nationwide, there is no major job category in which legal residents don’t represent at least 50 percent of the labor force. Nationwide, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 58% even of agricultural workers are native born. We have too many low-skilled workers competing for a limited number of low-skilled jobs. When you flood the market with illegals, you simply crowd the market for legal Americans.”
Mass legalization will take a particularly heavy toll on legal U.S. teenagers. Teens often take low-skill, after-school and summer jobs. Those launchpad jobs are an important part of training for success in life.
News You Can Use: The growing number of unskilled laborers entering the U.S. makes ever more important that you get a high school diploma and/or learn a skilled trade at a community college. Also, consider acquiring entrepreneurial skills (by working at the elbow of a successful small business owner,) so you can, some day, start your own business.
Legal residents who are high school graduates. Plummeting salaries for unskilled labor (for example, according to U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics, in the past decade, the average meat packer salary has declined from $20 an hour to $9 a hour) will motivate the best of the uneducated to seek employment previously reserved for high school graduates. The increased supply of those people will result in declining salaries in fields currently employing high school graduates, for example, retail and the skilled trades. News You Can Use: See the previous paragraph.
Nurses and teachers. Education and health care are among America’s most cash-strapped large fields. Their largest cost is personnel, with nurses and teachers representing the largest group of employees. According to Krikorian, the large influx of illegals, especially with the guest worker provision attached to all the Senate bills, will result in "nurse and teacher salaries descending toward minimum wage." Both of those professions are female-dominated, so women will bear the brunt. News You Can Use: Get the highest certifications you can: for example, education administrator, nurse practitioner, or nurse anesthetist,
This list of winners and losers is likely to remain valid for the foreseeable future. Sponsors of mass legalization promise their legislation will include enforcement of the borders and rules of who can and can’t be hired, but NumbersUSA’s Beck and the Center for Immigration Studies’ Krikorian believe that as with the government’s bracero program of the 1940s-60s and its 1986 immigration reform law, enforcement will be lax and many millions more illegals will sneak into the U.S and stay permanently. Krikorian says, "The proposed laws, with so many complex provisions, will be even more difficult to enforce than the past ones that were ignored. Nothing is as permanent as a temporary worker program."
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