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Jobs Americans Won't Do:

I rarely blog about immigration-related matters, because I have no expertise on the subject, and because I think this is the sort of subject that it's hard to make bottom-line conclusions about without real expertise There are lots of considerations cutting in various directions, and I have no real sense of how to estimate the magnitude of each, much less compare them.

Nonetheless, even in such matters there might be some benefit in discussing a particular factor that people are focusing on. So here's my question:

Can it possibly be right that illegal aliens are doing the "jobs Americans won't do," so that their presence is no competition for workers who are citizens?

I would have thought that, as a matter of basic economics, it makes little sense to talk about "jobs Xs won't do" (at least so long as X is a large and heterogeneous national group). Rather, there are only jobs Americans (or enough Americans) won't do for a certain amount of money. Raise the amount you're willing to pay, and more people will be willing to take that wage to do the job; at some price, that supply would be enough to satisfy the perceived demand for such workers.

Now perhaps "jobs Americans won't do" is shorthand for "jobs Americans won't do unless the wage is raised to a level at which the jobs wouldn't exist in any case, since they won't be cost-effective." (For instance, if current American citizens just won't pick fruit unless they're paid $20/hour, only currently illegal aliens are willing to pick fruit for less, and fruit picked at $20/hour in America won't be competitive with fruit imported from overseas, then it may be that no jobs in fruit-picking would realistically exist for the current American citizens.)

Yet surely this would be true only for some jobs. If getting certain jobs done without the now-illegal aliens requires raising wages, then in some situations the lack of illegal alien workers would mean the jobs would disappear. But in other situations someone will need the job done, and will just pay more -- to a current American citizen -- to get that job done.

Now it may well be that having more cheap and legal labor would be good for the average current-American-citizen worker, or even the average current-American-citizen low-wage worker. The presence of such labor might mean lower priced products for the current American citizens, and might mean more new jobs in new fields made possible by the economic efficiencies that the low-wage workers bring. It's actually pretty sensible free market economics, though free market economics that might lead to at least some results that some advocates of low-wage workers might not like, and that might be distorted by various aspects of the welfare state.

But in any case this argument is a very different argument, it seems to me, than "illegal immigrants just do the jobs Americans won't do." It's

Illegal immigrants just do the jobs Americans won't do for the same low wages that illegal immigrants will take, and it helps our economy to have the jobs done at those low wages.

Doesn't have quite the same ring, no? Or am I missing something here?

eng:
Actually... I think it does have the same ring. Because they can either do those jobs in the United States or somewhere else (this is implicit in your comment "with fruit imported from overseas").

Isn't it better to have that work performed locally? Where transportation costs will be lower, the goods (in the case of food) will be fresher, and the standards at least somewhat under our control?

Is it really moral to prefer the work be done else where so that other places can be polluted?
4.11.2006 3:47am
Wintermute (mail) (www):
Mechanization can replace some jobs where labor becomes too expensive or unavailable. The technology may have to be invented and developed; but this has happened in some California agriculture.

You've got the gist of the raise-the-wages argument, though. Some argue that external costs result from immigrant labor and must be added in before computing the help to our economy. Not to mention more unemployment among our native-born less-educated.

A lot to pay attention to, think through, and not rush to legislation on, although better border security at some reasonable cost can be regarded as a separable or condition precedent matter.
4.11.2006 4:06am
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
Got it in one, professor. You might use an empirical example of work group by occupational class which has both immigrant and non-immigrant workers. I'm thinking, oh, janitorial services. You'll find many born-and-raised-in-America janitors in the Chicago Public Schools, and relatively few in Chicago hotels, if I remember my experiences in the city correctly. The main reason is that janitors in the CPS are unionized and enjoy job security and pay rates which are, well, comparable with that of teachers in some areas in the country. Hotel employees, not so much.

(Incidentally, I'm several years out of Chicago and my memories of the CPS were as a child, so feel free to discount my reliability on the specifics. The general gist of the argument is essentially correct, I think.)
4.11.2006 4:07am
Jim Hu:
Some immigration critics advocate things like mowing your own lawn, suggesting that they are not willing to pay those higher wages either.

Thought experiment. Since it would cost a lot to build walls and enforce employer rules against hiring illegals, what do you think would happen if the native-born less educated got a subsidy to take the low wage work currently done by illegals.

Oh wait, we already have the earned income tax credit.

OK, so make it larger. Do you think we'd have more native-born less educateds doing these jobs?
4.11.2006 4:17am
devin chalmers (mail):
Yeah, they sound about the same to me, too.
4.11.2006 4:19am
Kovarsky (mail):
im not an immigration guy either, but i think one might make an argument that they undermine effective unionization. in other words, they take jobs at wages that prevent unionization from correcting for bargaining asymmetries.
4.11.2006 4:41am
Just A Visitor (mail):
analogy: Imagine that while fighting the war on drugs, that many large American pharmaceudical companies were the suppliers. But the penalties for suppliers were both negligible and unenforced. And on top of that, the government encouraged creating surplus medicine by giving free subsidies to the same pharmaceudical companies.

this is what our food / agriculture policy is actually like.
4.11.2006 5:17am
Just A Visitor (mail):
There a few abstract and practical ways to respond:

All resonses include this: The "jobs americans won't do" is divisive and evil propaganda no matter how you reformulate it.

abstract: An economist models people as logical and self-interested without regard to identity. If the illegal immigrants accept so little money it is because their (and their family's) cost of living is so low. This may be because much of the familty is not in America. There is no inherent difference between the self-interest of "Americans" and "Immigrants" that supports the propaganda.

practical: Immigration violations have been a constant factor for the lifetime of everyone alive. What you have are industries that have bribed the government into allowing them to operate in the criminal mode with illegal immigrant labor. This corruption seems to predate everyone alive. Sustaining this corruption is the purpose of the evil "jobs americans won't do" propaganda.

speculative: If more citizens and their families are reduced to the level of poverty and desperation, then they will start taking below minimum wage jobs from ciminial companies.

counter argument: They criminal companies can't risk hiring citizens below minimum wage because they need to have more leverage and blackmail against the workers. The goverment they have bribed has an entire INS deparment to remove uppity illegal immigrant workers from the country. It is comparativly difficult to arrest and incarcerate uppity citizen laborers.

observation: Many of the criminal companies are in agriculture. The goverment has strongly increased the amount of free government subsidies to these businesses (A policy that was changed from serving a need to serving as handouts under Nixon).

A logical and doomed proposal: And company that uses illegal immigrant labor in agriculture gets it's subsidies reduces to zero. Serious violators: permanenty zero. Large scale violations: pay back previous years' subsidies with penalties.
4.11.2006 5:18am
DRS:
SHADOW COSTS, OVERPRODUCTION &the wage differential between MARKET WAGES and BLACK MARKET WAGES.
---
Volokh hypothosis:
Undocumented labor is a net gain to society.

Caveat:
Use of Undocumented labor leads to overproduction through subsidies...because the actual labor costs are not reflected in the production costs and derivative market signals...
However...the Volokh hypothesis that undocumented labor is a net gain to society may still hold true...
---

Let
[MARKET WAGES = PECUNIARY WAGE + BENEFITS(health care...) + TAXES + SOCIAL SECURITY...]
Let
[BLACK MARKET WAGES = CASH WAGE]

When undocumented workers use social services such as health care, roads, fire, police, schools.... that they have not paid into through taxes paid...there is a SHADOW COST that is not reflected in the BLACK MARKET WAGE. It is a cost of production however, so the real, actual BLACK MARKET WAGE paid to undocumented workers should be re-written as:

ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES = CASH WAGE + SHADOW COST

GENERAL OBSERVATION:
If MARKET WAGES > ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES, then Volkh hypothesis appears to be correct...it would appear that it is beneficial to the economy to use undocumented labor...
However:
GENERAL OBSERVATION TWO:
The equation
ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES = CASH WAGE + SHADOW COST can be rewritten as the equality:

[CASH WAGE = ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES - SHADOW COST ]

NOTE: Labor cost of production is subsidized by the amount SHADOW COST, which means the market price does not reflect the actual cost...which leads to overproduction &over consumption of the item produced... which skews the allocation of resource uses...sooo...


Let
[NET LOSS = cost to society of overproduction &over consumption]

JUXTAPOSITION OF OBSERVATION ONE WITH OBSERVATION TWO:
Assume Volokh hypothesis is true:
MARKET WAGES > BLACK MARKET WAGES + SHADOW COST or
MARKET WAGES > ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES
Ergo...
MARKET WAGES - (BLACK MARKET WAGES + SHADOW COST) yields a positive number...called VOLOKH VALUE where
VOLOKH VALUE = [MARKET WAGES -(BLACK MARKET WAGES + SHADOW COST)] or
VOLOKH VALUE = [MARKET WAGES - ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGES]
If VOLOKH VALUE > NET LOSS , then the VOLOKH hypothesis is true, and undocumented labor is a net benefit to society...
==============
COMPLICATIONS can be added to this model ad infinitum...
4.11.2006 5:30am
DRS:
SUB-MINIMUM WAGE LAWYERS...
A colleague who wants Lou Dobbs as President and is similarly radically anti-immigrant just posited that if lawyers were paid minimum wage...only undocumented immigrants would be lawyers...
That actually proves the essence of the gain our country derives from illegals:

The utility provided a desperately poor illegal by receipt of five dollars per hour far exceeds the utility afforded wealthier American citizens competing for the same position...if we only could eliminate government programs such as education, medical care, roads....a free marketeer's dream...minimum wage brain surgeons...
4.11.2006 5:52am
DRS:
FINAL NOTE:
"IN SOURCING" THROUGH EMPLOYMENT OF UNDOCUMENTED LABOR SERVES AS OFFSET TO ASIAN PACIFIC COMPETITION...
In our race to the bottom with China et. al...perhaps we should open the border more...
4.11.2006 6:06am
keypusher (mail):
Dr. Volokh, as a comparatively recent immigrant yourself, you don't remember the dark days before massive illegal immigration, when the grass grew so high people were trapped in their houses, cabbages and carrots rotted in the fields, and gangs of feral toddlers roamed the streets.
4.11.2006 6:26am
davod (mail):
My opposition to the "they fill jobs Americans won't do" argument is that it is disingenous. Of course there are jobs people do not want to do.

This shouldn't be the issue. The issue should be do we have sufficient unemployed qualified people, and fit enough, to do the jobs for which there are vacancies.
4.11.2006 6:33am
llamasex (mail) (www):
I agree with you that we are talking about jobs Americans won't do for the wage offered, but there are those who think Americans simply won't do them. Here is a quote from Senator McCain


WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. John McCain threatened on Tuesday to cut short a speech to union leaders who booed his immigration views and later challenged his statements on organized labor and the Iraq war.

"If you like, I will leave," McCain told the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, pivoting briefly from the lectern. He returned to the microphone after the crowd quieted.

"OK, then please give me the courtesy I would give you."

It was a colorful and contentious session, producing as many laughs as boos, that tested McCain's commitment to the straight-talking, wisecracking image he honed during his failed 2000 presidential bid. An underdog six years ago, the Arizona Republican is expected to seek the 2008 GOP nomination as a front-runner.

"I loved it. I love mixing it up like that," McCain said after the speech to a Democratic-leaning crowd of several hundred.

He did seem to enjoy the back and forth that began minutes into his address, when he mentioned campaigning on behalf of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican. The crowd booed the reference to Schwarzenegger but laughed at McCain's self-effacing joke that followed.

He said somebody came up to him at the Schwarzenegger event and said, "Do people tell you look like John McCain?"

"Yes, they do."

"Doesn't that make you madder than hell?"

Later, the senator outlined his position on the Senate immigration debate, saying tougher border enforcement must be accompanied by guest-worker provisions that give illegal immigrants a legal path toward citizenship.

Murmurs from the crowd turned to booing. "Pay a decent wage!" one audience member shouted.

"I've heard that statement before," McCain said before threatening to leave.

Afterward, the senator said he offered to cut his speech short "because I wanted to be heard."

In the speech, McCain also argued that withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely from Iraq would turn terrorists loose on the United States.

This time, there was no booing - though one audience member cursed from the back of the crowd.

McCain got another laugh when he finished the speech and asked whether anybody had "questions, comments or insults."

The first questioner seemed to challenge his commitment to organized labor. When McCain started to praise a particular labor group in Arizona, the crowd booed again.

"Stop!" he said with a smile, drawing laughter from the crowd. "I surrender."

But he took more questions, including a pointed one on his immigration plan.

McCain responded by saying immigrants were taking jobs nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting McCain's job offer.

"I'll take it!" one man shouted.

McCain insisted none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season. "You can't do it, my friends."

Some in the crowd said they didn't appreciate McCain questioning their work ethic.


"I was impressed with his comedy routine and ability to tap dance without music. But I was impressed with nothing else about him," said John Wasniewski of Milwaukee. "He's supposed to be Mr. Straight Talk?"

Others said McCain showed some moxie, if not the best political judgment.

"Most of us don't agree with him on immigration, but I give him credit for trying," said Chris Schoenbeck of Milwaukee.

With his profile rising, a growing number of Democrats are accusing McCain of flip-flopping on issues to court conservative GOP primary voters.

McCain denied that charge later Tuesday - after addressing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a GOP-leaning group that backs his immigration views. There were no boos. Just laughter, and at the end of his remarks, a standing ovation from the Hispanic leaders.

Yet McCain's mind was still on the labor activists and their prickly reception.

"I can't tell you how much fun that was," he said.
http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060404/D8GPE2H00.html


I find the idea that Americans won't do work even for $50 downright offensive.
4.11.2006 6:42am
btorrez (mail):
One of the aspects of illegal immigration that I haven't heard much discussion about is the fact that they create excess demand for items such as food, gas, clothing, apartments, etc., while they are here; therefore, increasing profits to those who supply such things. Granted there are additional costs, such as DRS and others have pointed out (and potentially higher prices due to higher demand). How to calculate that accurately may be dicey.
4.11.2006 6:54am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Mexican Physicians also work for much lower pay than do their American Counterparts. Working as a physician without the proper credentials is prosecuted rather vigorously however. As for "jobs Americans just won't do" aprox 50% of the physicians training to be Family Practicioners are immigrants. Of course the average medical resident pay is on the order of $10/hr for an 80 hr week, so I can foresee a day when ALL physicians will be immigrants.
4.11.2006 7:25am
Johhny:
The issue of immigration is one of economics, period. Yes, the goal is to introduce low-wage workers into the economy. Yes, many Americans won't pick lettuce for less than $50.00 an hour. That is reality.

However, once amnesty has been granted, where will those new immigrants be working at in five years? Not in the fields. America will need 10-15 million new illegal immigrants to do the jobs the current illegals do now.

Illegal immigrations works for the illegals and the corportations. Illegals get the dollars to send to their families and corporations get cheap labor who will work for peanuts compared to a native born American. This drives down wages, further eroding the middle class.

With the erosion of middle-class America, less is bought from the corporations. This reduces corporate profits. However, with 10-15 million new poor immigrants every 10 years, there are more people to sell to. Lose one middle-class consumer and replace him or her with 10 poor consumers and the profit-driven equation balances.

I also hear the argument repeated that illegal immigrants are here in America because Americans have rights not enjoyed in their native countries. Yes, we do. The American Revolution and the Founding Fathers enshrined those rights in The Constitution of The United States. Maybe you should excercise your political power and have a revolution, peaceful (preferable) or otherwise. The poor vastly outnumber the wealthy. Ah, but maybe they don't have enough guns? Or maybe, just maybe, they don't vote or vote for the same politicians that sucker them in every time? Vicente Fox anyone?

Don't forget, not only are illegal immigrants in the United States reducing the survivability of middle-class America, outsourcing jobs and importing cheap technical labor (though there is an over-abundance of skilled workers) is also eroding the wealth of most American citizens, born or naturalized. Where will China be in 10 years?

China (and Asia) is the new consumer frontier for the corporations. 300 million middle-class Chinese consumers (potential) is a vastly more attractive market than America's estimated 70-114 million middle-class consumers. Corporations realize that by building an Asian middle-class and leaving North Americans to rot, corporate profits will be better.

China is attractive as a corporate paradise. The government is Communist. For those corporations willing to play ball, the Communist Chinese government is in a position to offer lucrative deals a la monopolies. I would not be surprised if certain corporations and multinational business entities already have plans to relocate their headquarters and intellectual property to China once the United States consumer lode has played out.

Enjoy it while it lasts.
4.11.2006 7:53am
Richard Laycock (mail):
Anyone willing to look will see that illegals displace American citizens from well-paying jobs. That has happened throughout whole industries. I've seen up close the transformation in the construction trade. Most particularly residential construction in SoCal.

I was a union carpenter and a union signatory GC. I watched the collapse of the drywall union as illegals took over the trade. Mexican crews would work under a patron, a rich jefe that acts as a contractor. These guys did good work at half the drywaller's normal wage or less. All the white guys were run out of the business. In the end it didn't hurt the union bosses. They reformed the union fighting for $15/hr with Mexicans when they fought against $24/hr when the members were mainly white. That was 15 years ago.

Now even the crews on cable homebuilding shows from New England are mainly latino. On the high $ houses I work on you'll have one or two experienced journeymen making real money running a crew of latinos making several $ less than I would have done it for 15 years ago.

There is not one damn thing good for the economy in this. The houses I work on are very upscale but regardless the total cost of the house the increase in fees, taxes and land over these same 15 years make the savings to labor from hiring los migras insignificant to the homeowner but it is certainly significant to the GC when he's bidding to get the contract. It's a rare contractor that will insist on legals when his competitors are all using illegals.

Who gets really screwed are young Americans. A teenager in high school or college used to be able to find summer work as a construction apprentice. The guys who didn't have the knack for school had a path to a career that could allow them to truly prosper. A man with skill and common sense can make a fortune in construction. Now these young guys are almost completely locked out by illegals. This is happening in every trade you see flooded with migras.

Wordsmiths and pundits are prattling on about whether Americans will do these jobs. The discussion is a diversion born of their guilt. What's really going on is many Americans who think their careers won't be effected, pundits included, are willing to screw their neighbors in order to save a buck or two.

McCain's example was lettuce. Ironic, because these are jobs it seems even Mexicans won't do. The truth is there is still a shortage of farm workers because the current chaos sees the migras going to the cities to steal jobs from urban youths leaving many fields either to lay fallow or rot.

Well, back before Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez destroyed the bracero system there were 14,000,000 Mexicans working the fields and ranches. They didn't steal construction jobs or change our motel beds. There was a system. That system should be put back in place with fair conditions and wages. Notice the 14 million. I'm advocating MORE temp workers but for the real "jobs Americans won't do" not the jobs Americans don't want to pay their neighbors to do.

Close the border. No migras, mas braceros y vaqueros.

R.
4.11.2006 8:56am
Matt Florio (mail):
"Jobs Americans won't do" is just modern-speak for the argument, orginally made over 100 years ago, for the continuation of the practice of slavery in these here United States. Southern agriculturists of the times decried that crops of cotton would rot in the fields without the slave labor to pick them. What actually happened? The cotton gin was invented.
Illegal labor, if it all disappeared tomorrow, would be replaced sooner than later either by a rise in wages to attract legal workers or an advance in technology (probably one, then the other), like the cotton gin, that makes the industries that formerly relied upon the illegal laborer to flourish less dependent on manual labor. I can't see either of those being a bad thing, even if lettuce doubles in price until such changes become apparent.
4.11.2006 8:59am
PersonFromPorlock:
Let's try something simple: a whacking great fine for anyone who hires an illegal, coupled with a whacking great reward and automatic resident alien status for any illegal worker who turns in his employer.

This should destroy the demand for illegal immigrant workers pretty quickly.
4.11.2006 9:15am
llamasex (mail) (www):
Matt Florio, you aren't thinking about a cotton gin. The cotton gin processed cotton, it didn't pic it. That made the need for people to pick cotton to rise, not fall. You might be thinking about a cotton picker or a bailer of some type.

Other than that I think you hit on an important point, cheap labor leads to inefficiencies. If labor for alot of these jobs were more expensive then you would see more machines and technology pop up to fill the void.
4.11.2006 9:18am
DRS:
Reply to Frank Drackmann:

Very well put...thanks for the data.
DRS.
4.11.2006 9:28am
bluecollarguy:
Professor Volokh,

There is not an occupation in this country where illegal aliens are the majority of the workers in that occupation. In fact there is no occupation in this country where immigrants, legal or otherwise, make up a majority of workers in that occupation.

Robert Samuelson recently had a piece in the WaPost addressing that canard.

Americans will do all jobs and any job.
4.11.2006 9:30am
AppSocRes (mail):
Anybody who thinks that Americans will do the work these immigrants are doing should consider the following: Many US cities now have open air labor markets where immigrants gather to offer their services to individuals seeking to hire manual laborers. It is as close as one can get to a free market.

These markets are not discriminatory: I have seen persons of different ethnicities, different cultures, and speaking different languages gather together in individual labor markets. All the participants have in common is a need to work or a need to find workers.

The one thing I have yet to see is native-born US citizens seeking work in these locations. I doubt that advertising their location in high-unemployment neighborhoods within the cities in question would change the situation. Given unemployment rates of better than 50% among certain segments of our core-city labor forces, this definitely suggests to me that immigrants are actively competing to do work that native-borns will not even consider.

I certainly have no sympathy at all for native-born trade union laborers who have kept construction costs artificially high with their lobbying and thuggery and are now facing honest competition for the first time. Good riddance to them. Someday I hope that a true free market will finally determine construction wages in this country.
4.11.2006 9:53am
Kristian (mail) (www):

Volokh hypothosis:
Undocumented labor is a net gain to society.

Caveat:
Use of Undocumented labor leads to overproduction through subsidies...because the actual labor costs are not reflected in the production costs and derivative market signals...
However...the Volokh hypothesis that undocumented labor is a net gain to society may still hold true...


There was a book out not too long ago called, IIRC, The Mystery of Capital. Among the topics was a discussion of why many third world countries have, essentially, broken economies. One of the constants was a large black / grey market for goods and services. The point was, the more that labor and capital were not operating under the protection of law, the more ineffecient the economy became. So, at least by that review, the net economic gain is likely to be minimal, if it exists at all.
4.11.2006 9:53am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I ran into this over 30 years ago, when I was working at a brickyard in Boulder. It was back breaking work, and we were paid just a bit above minimum wage. The college kids would show up (Boulder of course has the main campus of the University of Colorado), and the guys who got hired would work for a couple of day, at most. Over time, most of the workers ended up being of Mexican heritage. Back then, the management just didn't ask too closely about citizenship, and everthing was fine. They would work for 8 months a year, the plant would shut down for four, and they would go back home to Mexico, and live like kings, with their large families that they were supporting. And then they would be back for the next season.

What was noticable was that they worked extremely hard at work that most Americans would not do because it was so hard, and they would have a lot of fun at it. For example, five of us would be stacking wet bricks as they came out of the pug mill. 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity. But about every half an hour, the two young guys at the top of the line would start racing each other, stacking all the bricks for the five of us. This would go on for maybe ten minutes, then we would all go back to work for the next twenty.

Economically, this company was competing with companies that had automated much of this, at great cost, and, ultimately, I think they followed suit. But at that time, they couldn't afford it, and were competing against the automation, and, thus, couldn't afford higher pay - though I doubt that doubling pay would have meant that much in terms of keeping the American college kids.
4.11.2006 10:01am
Enoch:
Many US cities now have open air labor markets where immigrants gather to offer their services to individuals seeking to hire manual laborers. It is as close as one can get to a free market.... The one thing I have yet to see is native-born US citizens seeking work in these locations.

Well, duuuh, of course native-born Americans "will not do" arduous physical work for sub-minimum wage, without benefits, and without any protection from workplace safety laws. This is exactly what Eugene said up top. It is, however, reprehensible to clamor for a "true free market" in which people are denied basic rights. Would YOU be willing to work in such conditions?
4.11.2006 10:08am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The problem, as I see it, is that we now have a big enough safety net in place that people can not take these low paying jobs that entair a lot of hard work, and not starve. I have a friend who is right now between jobs. He is turning down a lot of less desirable jobs, because he is getting unemployment, and knows that if things get really bad, he may ultimately also qualify for other welfare benefits. If it were a question of starving, then he probably would take them, but it isn't. When we didn't have this safety net, the labor market didn't get as disfunctional at the bottom, as it does now.

Yes, there are market clearing prices for most jobs that illegals do, if they were prevented from taking those jobs. But I suspect that the wages required would so significantly increase prices that our standards of living would be impacted.

For example, a lot of the cleaning of hotels, etc., is done by illegals these days. Overall, they are more reliable, and, critically here, more honest (many of the legals working these jobs have problems, such as drugs, that keep them from better paying jobs). Paying the market clearing price for reliable honest legals would significantly increase the labor costs for these employers, which would hit all of our pocketbooks - which is why so many Americans are of two minds on this subject.

Finally, note that immigrants here have traditionally done just this sort of work. The Irish built the eastern part oour transcontinental railroad, while Chinese the western part. The mines here in the second half of the 19th century were filled with recent immigrants, trying to get ahead.
4.11.2006 10:15am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I certainly have no sympathy at all for native-born trade union laborers who have kept construction costs artificially high with their lobbying and thuggery and are now facing honest competition for the first time.

Honest competition? How can it be honest competition when the employers are blatantly violating the law by ignoring worker safety, minimum wage, not paying taxes, unemployment insurance, workers' comp, etc., on these workers' salaries? What happens when these men get injured on the job? I bet they get dumped off at the emergency room and the general public bears the cost of their treatment instead of the employer (who is actually responsible for it). What happens at the end of the week when the contractor disappears without paying his workers? Who do they turn to? They can't sue, because they aren't in the country legally.

You want to get rid of the unions, fine. But in return, let's take away the artificial legal fiction protecting the employers. Let's do away with corporations. Then we can have a true free market and everyone can bargain one on one employment contracts directly.
4.11.2006 10:26am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
A lot of the work done these days by illegals is not sub-minimum wage. You saw above the story of the carpenter and my story making bricks. Both were above minimum wage. The problem is that the market clearing price for legals working these jobs is typically higher, often much higher, than either the minimum wage or what is being paid.

Of course, we could raise the minimum wage above these levels, but that would also price teenagers out of their first jobs - and they don't need to make more because for the most part, they are living at home, or maybe with a bunch of friends. (Actually, this probably extends into their twenties for many these days - I know it did for me some 30-35 years ago).

In any case, it isn't really addressing the problem. At the bottom of the wage hierarchy, those who are legal are typically either young or disfunctional (often through drugs and alcohol). The illegals are typically much better employees than the disfunctionals, given the lack of work ethic and honesty of many of the later.
4.11.2006 10:29am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Paying the market clearing price for reliable honest legals would significantly increase the labor costs for these employers, which would hit all of our pocketbooks - which is why so many Americans are of two minds on this subject.

But paying people in the lower quarter or so of the income scale more would enable them to live a better lifestyle and become better consumers and citizens. So while the marginal cost of some commodities to the middle class would increase (say I have to buy a lower cut of meat because the cost of beef rises meat-packing once again becomes a high-paying union job), the benefits to society as a whole (less strain on the hospital system because of less injuries on the job and good health insurance, less crime, more disposable income to the workers, less strain on social services) more than outweigh the costs. This is something Henry Ford understood--that there was no point in producing a car for the people if the people weren't paid enough to afford it.
4.11.2006 10:38am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Yes, some of thet illegals work at jobs where safety, wage, etc. laws (other than immigration laws) are routinely violated. But many do not, but rather work side by side with legals. How much of each? I frankly don't know, but my experience is that a majority are in the later category. Maybe a large majority. The ski areas here are filled with Hispanics with rudimentary understanding of English, who are earning significantly above the minimum wage (because of the cost of living here), and work for large companies that follow labor laws closely (with the possible exception of the immigration laws).

My point is that of all of those I see for whom I question their legal status (and I see a lot of them), almost all are in positions where minimum wage and worker safety laws are being obeyed. Obviously, this is not a random sample, just enough that I question whether ignoring these laws is really the issue here, except maybe at the margins.
4.11.2006 10:38am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
Seems to me while the Volokh revision gets the original (non-Volokh) formulation closer to reality, it still misses/blurs these issues:
1 It's a question of mobility, of matching a job in a specific location with a worker in that location. Presumably an immigrant is relatively comfortable going anywhere in the country to pursue a job. Some native-born workers have irrational attachments to a locale, whether it's the mountains of PA (see recent NYTime Mag)or New Orleans and aversions to other locales, like rural lettuce fields and fancy suburbs.
2 Comparing oranges and apples--I'd guess there's a difference between a 20-year old native with a 9th grade education, versus a 20-year immigrant with a 9th grade education. Their book learning may be similar, but the latter was in higher percentile in his/her society than the native is in the U.S. That's got to be significant.
3 The U.S. has a long history of immigration. Have immigrants always done jobs for less than those already here? If so, that drag on U.S. wages must now cause us to lag far behind those of other nations?
4.11.2006 10:42am
casey (mail):
This is not rocket science, nor is there any reason for agonized hand-wringing.

A safety net should be just that: a plan to help the genuinely disabled and the very young and old.

Able-bodied individuals who have no money and want food and shelter must work--at least this is the game plan of billions of people worldwide, including the Mexicans in the United States.
4.11.2006 10:50am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The ski areas here are filled with Hispanics with rudimentary understanding of English, who are earning significantly above the minimum wage (because of the cost of living here), and work for large companies that follow labor laws closely (with the possible exception of the immigration laws).

The ski areas are an exception as most of their employees are legal since they can hire foreign nationals on a seasonal basis on a special work visa. The need to do that is mostly a result of the real estate market which has made being a ski bum for a season economically unfeasible for your average college student. Cheap apartments are almost impossible to find. The ski areas therefore bus in the hispanics from a long way away to work, and since they don't ski they don't mind the long commute.
4.11.2006 10:50am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I am not sure how accurate your recitation of horribles is. One reason that, for example, some hotels like hiring illegals is that they are more honest and more likely to show up than those who are legal to work here and are at that level of the wage hierarchy. As I noted before, many of these have alcohol and/or drug problems.

The other problem that seems to be ignored is that we really don't have all that many willing and able legal workers available. The last unemployment figures I saw were about 4.75%, a rate that during the Carter Administration was considered impossible. Many economists think that this is at or below the frictional unemployment level.

Of course, that is of people willing and able to work, and there are plenty, esp. women and students, who chose not to, and could, if need be, (re)enter the job market. But raising wages overall has the perverse effect of allowing at least some of these people to voluntarily leave the job market, as that extra money is spent on just that, for example, giving up second or third jobs, or letting one spouse stay at home with the kids more.
4.11.2006 10:54am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Able-bodied individuals who have no money and want food and shelter must work--at least this is the game plan of billions of people worldwide, including the Mexicans in the United States.

Well, you have solved the problem of unemployment in one sentence. How simple.
4.11.2006 10:54am
GregD:
Simple. Put the majority of the people who will not work for the wages offered, black males, into prison and allow as many illegal immigrants as possible to fill the jobs. Granted this does not account for the majority of jobs taken by illegals, but why the black community is not up-in-arms over illegal immigration is beyond me.
4.11.2006 10:58am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I am not sure how accurate your recitation of horribles is.

I chose beef as my example because the meat-packing industry is a perfect example of where my recitation of horribles has happened. Thirty years ago, meat-packing was a high-paying, mostly union job where most of the jobs were in large and medium sized mid-western cities (Kansas City, Des Moines, Chicago, etc.). The job was hard, physical labor, but it was semi-skilled, paid well, and meant life-time job security and was often multi-generational and provided a solid middle class standard of living.

Starting in the late seventies and early eighties, the industry began to consolidate, with the rise of IBP, the plants began to move to small towns in the midwest far from the union organizers and the traditional employees (mostly 2nd generation eastern european immigrants). Now the jobs are low-paying, high turnover, jobs dominated by undocumented workers. It is the most dangerous industrial job in the country with a shockingly high rate of repetitive stress injuries and amputations. The towns that host the plants have discovered that they are far from good neighbors and the poverty and health problems they bring strain social and hospital services. The new residents speak little English and are transient since turnover rates are very high (generally 90%) due to burnout and injury.
4.11.2006 11:10am
ksd:
I think a critical aspect of the immigration debate is being ignored in this discussion, as it is in every discussion I've heard over the last few weeks -- the importance of immigrant labor (legal and illegal) in checking inflation and sustaining economic growth. We all know that manufacturing jobs have been moving out of the U.S. for decades, primarily due to labor costs. I heard a story on PRI's Marketplace not too long ago where a Chinese factory owner was bemoaning the fact that she recently had to raise wages to the equivalent of 85 cents a day. In some places (Vietnam and Malaysia, for instance), prevailing wage rates are even lower.

No one would work for that rate in the U.S. -- not even illegal immigrants. Why? Because the cost of living here is so much higher. You can support a family on $1 a day in much of the world. Why is the cost of living so much higher in the U.S.? A big part of it is labor cost. Even the most menial job commands a wage of more than $5 per hour. Of every dollar we spend, every day, a large portion goes to pay the wages of U.S. employees who produce, harvest, ship, distribute, market, package, clean, inspect, repair, sell, etc., those goods and services.

Yes, immigrant labor depresses wages. Without immigrant labor, wage rates in the agriculture, transportation and construction industries would be much higher. We would all pay the price, though. There would be a huge ripple effect throughout the economy. We would find it even more difficult to compete with the rest of the world, as the cost of living would soar even higher. Your food would cost more, your homes would cost more, and pretty soon everything else would cost more. A lot more. Add that to rising gas prices, and you can begin to see why any measures that significantly slow the rate at which we import low skilled labor will have devastating effects on the U.S. economy, and we and our children and grandchildren would pay the price.

That's not to say that we shouldn't implement those measures -- that's a policy question that I won't attempt to answer. If we want the U.S. to continue its economic growth, however, restricting the flow of inexpensive labor and thereby driving up labor costs (and the cost of everything else) is exactly the wrong thing to do.
4.11.2006 11:33am
anon6:
Illegal immigrants would never come here unless American business owners were also willing to break the law and hire illegal immigrants. My ancestors (I'm of German heritage) didn't come here for fun, they came here to make a better life for themselves, and the same is true of the current Mexican immigrants. If they couldn't get jobs, they wouldn't come to the U.S., its as simple as that. Wasting money on border patrol makes no sense; you simply can't patrol such a large border without it being ridiculously expensive.

PersonfromPorlock was correct: fines and jail time for business owners who are willing to hire illegal immigrants is the only way illegal immigration will cease. It is the criminals in suits, not in the fields, that are the cause of this mess.

Of course, this will never happen though, since these same criminals constantly payoff the politicians to keep them off their back.
4.11.2006 11:40am
Irensaga (mail):
Funny thing is, if Bush's guest worker program gets implemented it probably won't be Mexicans doing those jobs either.

People need to realize that Mexico's relative standard of wages and living is actually rather high in the world. Mexican workers are not the cheapest available. The only real competative advantage of the Mexican work force is its close proximity to the US border.

Create a legal guest worker program, and that competetive advantage vanishes. You can get workers from ANYWHERE.

You think US fruit operations, slaughterhouses, and construction firms are going to keep hiring more expensive Mexicans under the guest worker program?

Not quite. They are going to be shipping in boatloads of Pakistani and Indian peasants. There are plenty of places in the world where you can get cheaper labor than Mexico.

So this guest worker debate really isn't about Mexico, despite what the recent protest rallies would indicate.
4.11.2006 11:47am
Houston Lawyer:
I agree that the idea that there are jobs that Americans won't do is absurd. I have worked side-by-side with the illegals doing the same work, as have many others. It's not fun busting your ass in the hot sun, but many are willing to do it.

Right now our unemployment rate is 4.7%. Where are we going to get 11,000,000 relatively young and able bodied workers to do these jobs? We will soon be reaching the point we hit during the dot.com boom where you can't find a compentent worker for many jobs.
4.11.2006 11:49am
Freder Frederson (mail):
You can support a family on $1 a day in much of the world. Why is the cost of living so much higher in the U.S.?

I defy you to go anywhere in the world and "support" a family on a $1 a day without living in abject poverty.
4.11.2006 11:53am
wallace4:

PersonfromPorlock was correct: fines and jail time for business owners who are willing to hire illegal immigrants is the only way illegal immigration will cease. It is the criminals in suits, not in the fields, that are the cause of this mess.


Hear, hear. The way to win the war on drugs is to arrest the buyers, not the sellers. Ditto vis-a-vis prostitution or, in fact, any illegal transaction.
4.11.2006 11:55am
Leland:
I think the whole notion that illegal immigration is acceptable because it helps the economy is a bad idea, or at the very least, short sighted.. I need only look to France. The only difference is the French prefer that North Africans don't assimilate into society. In the US, the Mexican illegal immigrants don't want to assimilate into society; otherwise they would naturally be protesting with American Flags and begging for citizenship (which is not what they are doing). As this continues, the US becomes more like Mexico rather than immigrants becoming more like the US. At some point, what made the US preferable for labor over Mexico will be lost. At that point, even illegal immigrants will not want to do the jobs for lower pay, and the US economy and its citizens will be in a crisis.

Professor Volokh, please consider in your thought process the role social welfare plays. Without due consideration of that factor in the economy and employee pool, I think your conclusion is faulty. I met many Americans who will not work for any job whose pay is less than what they would otherwise receive for not working and remaining eligible for welfare. I met many illegal immigrants who will spend hours waiting in ERs to receive free cold medicine (or otherwise non-emergency care), so they wouldn't have to pay for a doctor or drugs. Employers also have incentive to hirer illegal immigrants and avoid contribution to social welfare programs. For the citizens who decide to work hard, pay for what they need, and contribute to their nation's well being; the costs increase and the reward is kept artificially low. New immigration laws might resolve two out of three issues, but only until the social welfare opportunity is discovered.
4.11.2006 12:04pm
smc78 (mail):
I would point out that over two-thirds of undocumented immigrants work in jobs with fake documentation and pay taxes, unemployment insurance, etc, and receive no benefits for it. There is a multibillion dollar fund of Social Security funds (converted into government IOUs of course) that is from social security numbers that are not real. Those revenues are largely from undocumented immigrants.

The canard that most undocumented immigrants are working in substandard work conditions just isn't true. Rationalizing the immigration system, dealing with those who are already here (pretending we're just going to deport 11 million people is silly... the cost involved is astounding and would cause major economic repurcussions in certain sectors), and moving forward with some logical system to allow for more orderly immigration so we know who coming in is the only way to solve this problem. Additionally, bringing the undocumented aboveground will allow us to protect those people who are being exploited by unscrupulous employers.
4.11.2006 12:06pm
smc78 (mail):
Leland: I disagree. Are St. Patrick's Day marchers with Irish flags failing to assimilate into America? Do those on Columbus Day with Italian flags not grateful to be American? The flag can represent a cultural tie to their ancestors, it does not mean the rejection of the current country. You overly simplify the issue. Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans are every bit as proud of their heritage as Mexican-Americans seem to be.

I've never liked the concept of the melting pot. I always prefered the imagery of a salad bowl, where all of the pieces maintain their unique identity, but together creating a much more fulfilling, complete, and satisfying whole.
4.11.2006 12:09pm
Whatever:
What problem are we trying to solve? It seems to me that while illegal labor might drive down wages, it also increases the purchasing power of those wages by keeping the cost of products low. If we were to exclude what is currently illegal labor and saw prevailing wages rise, as some have predicted, wouldn't the value of those dollars be substantially lower?

Additionally, I think unemployment is currently around 4.7% Isn't that close to the target? We don't want super-low unemployment, as that causes the same problems, competition for employees increases, wages increase, the cost of goods and services goes up, we all make more money, but its worth less when we go to spend it.

I'm pretty happy with things the way they are. I like being able to afford decent lettuce in the middle of winter. Whats wrong with things the way they are?
4.11.2006 12:18pm
Enoch:
Wasting money on border patrol makes no sense; you simply can't patrol such a large border without it being ridiculously expensive.

The 14-mile San Diego border fence cost $25 million, or $1.7 million per mile. The border is about 2000 miles long. So, maybe $3.4 billion to do the whole border. We piss that away in a couple of weeks in Iraq. We spend over $100 billion annually on highway construction. So, "ridiculously expensive" a border fence would not be. Not even at TWICE the cost of the San Diego fence.

Freder, you're just smoking hot today...
4.11.2006 12:29pm
Dave!:
I think that it is pretty universally understood by most Americans that the phrase "Jobs American's won't do/don't want" is synonymous with "jobs Americans won't do unless the wage is raised to a level at which the jobs wouldn't exist". So I think the ring is exactly the same.
4.11.2006 12:41pm
Fran (mail) (www):
AppSocRes

You talk about a true 'free market'. Illegal immigrants are by definition not part of the free market, they shouldn't be here.

A union is not a bad thing. There are many professional organizations that require a license to practice...enforced by the state. Doctors, lawyers, engineers. We do this to protect people caused by people who are not qualified to preform those tasks. By definition this creates a limited market and hence skews the pay for these people.
4.11.2006 1:02pm
FXKLM:
Fran: You seem to have a little too much faith in the power of argument by definition. It's far from obvious to me that illegal immigrants are not a part of the free market. Is there something about the definition of free market that excludes illegal immigrants or is it something about the definition of illegal immigrant?

You're correct that imposing licensing restrictions on certain professions tends to reduce supply and increase wages in those professions, but that argument requires quite a bit more information than a mere definition.
4.11.2006 1:46pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The issue of immigration is one of economics, period. Yes, the goal is to introduce low-wage workers into the economy. Yes, many Americans won't pick lettuce for less than $50.00 an hour. That is reality.
I wouldn't do it, because this isn't much more than I make now. But large numbers of Americans do dirty and physically demanding jobs that make lettuce picking look like office work and for far less than $50 an hour. I guarantee you that if you offered that sort of wage to pick lettuce (which is far above any market wage will ever be), you would have lines stretching for miles for those jobs.

Illegal immigration keeps wages low in service industries, to the benefit of middle and upper class people, and to the detriment of unskilled U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Yes, in the absence of this vast swarm of illegal immigrants, I would expect to see my meal at Jack in the Box go up by about 25 cents, and at a nice restaurant by perhaps a dollar or two. I can afford that. The benefit, however, is that a lot of unskilled Americans would now be making enough money that working would make more sense than dependency, and in some cases, the increase in wages would allow them to pay for health insurance--which they can't afford right now.

I can see why some Republicans are big on illegal immigrants; it keeps business costs low, although at the expense of dramatic social services costs that everyone pays for. It is insane that the Democrats are big on illegal immigrants, because it is damaging a demographic that in theory should belong to the Democrats: white blue collar workers, but in practice, tend to vote Republican.

Either party could score a knockout victory in the elections this year by making a united front in favor of cutting off illegal immigration for the benefit of America's unskilled workers. But the Republicans are too beholden to business interests, and the Democrats are too emotionally tied to the idea that these illegals are, within a few years, going to be a solidly Democratic voting bloc.
4.11.2006 1:53pm
Challenge:
A very large number of the jobs now being taken by illegal immigrants are jobs Americans or legal immigrants have typically done. I have known of companies outsourcing components of their business (like night maintenance, cleaning) to companies which hire illegals. It's not that Americans wouldn't do this job, it's that they wounldn't do it for the wage an illegal will.

People like to talk about agriculture, even though the explosion in illegal immigration from Mexico in the last decade and half has not been going into this area.
4.11.2006 2:06pm
Challenge:
"The issue of immigration is one of economics, period. Yes, the goal is to introduce low-wage workers into the economy. Yes, many Americans won't pick lettuce for less than $50.00 an hour. That is reality."

John McCain? This is NOT reality. What kind of people do you hang around?

And when will people acknowledge that the absolute explosion and illegal immigration isn't going into the ag. sector. They are replacing American workers in occupations traditionally performed by legal workers.
4.11.2006 2:09pm
KingOfMyCastle:
What people seem to forget when they are discussing the economic benefit of illegal aliens is that these benefits are outweighed by the huge burden they place on our social services.

For example, an illegal immigrant family with 3 children in California costs the state taxpayers about $27,000/year in education costs alone. Not to mention the fact that our schools are overcrowded and dumbed-down due to the low English speaking abilities.

That's not counting the beating that our health care system is taking. If you are in southern California and visit an emergency room, I guarantee that 80% of the people waiting will be illegal. They don't have employer healthcare so end up using ER's for any medical problem that they have. Several hospitals in the area are teetering on the edge of financial ruin or have closed their emergency rooms.

There are also costs incurred by requirements to offer just about every government communication/service in Spanish. (DMV, etc)

So while the whole country may receive a distributed economic benefit of low wage workers, the places where they actually live bear the costs.
4.11.2006 2:11pm
KingOfMyCastle:
Re: my post above. How about this for a solution:

Add a tax for every resident of states that don't have large illegal populations and then distribute that money to the states that bear the costs. Would people in Connecticut (for example) feel the same generousity towards illegal immigrants if they had to share some of the costs? :-)
4.11.2006 2:14pm
Challenge:
"I wouldn't do it, because this isn't much more than I make now. But large numbers of Americans do dirty and physically demanding jobs that make lettuce picking look like office work and for far less than $50 an hour. I guarantee you that if you offered that sort of wage to pick lettuce (which is far above any market wage will ever be), you would have lines stretching for miles for those jobs."

$50/hour thing is just hilarious. McCain made an ass out of himself telling some union guys that they "just can't do it" after they took up his offer of $50/hour to pick lettuce.


McCain responded by saying immigrants were taking jobs nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting McCain's job offer.

"I'll take it!" one man shouted.

McCain insisted none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season. "You can't do it, my friends."

Some in the crowd said they didn't appreciate McCain questioning their work ethic.


Link to story
4.11.2006 2:18pm
Challenge:
"Are St. Patrick's Day marchers with Irish flags failing to assimilate into America? Do those on Columbus Day with Italian flags not grateful to be American?"

A few points: the Irish and Italians waving those flags are assimilated, English speaking Americans. Nobody questions their allegiance rests, and for good reason.

More importantly, the recent protests were supposed to highlight why this community wants to become Americans, why America should welcome them rather than showing them the door. Waving a foreign flag doesn't convey the appropriate message, it conveys a separatist, hostile message.
4.11.2006 2:37pm
Challenge:
"The other problem that seems to be ignored is that we really don't have all that many willing and able legal workers available."

OK, if demand for output is that strong, then we'd see massive increases in capital in place of labor, which would increase labor productivity and increase the standard of living. Why would that be a bad thing?
4.11.2006 2:41pm
glangston (mail):
According to the statistics there are only 4 jobs that have a majority of illegal immigrants employed and one of them is masonry. Living in CA I'm inclined to think the majority of masons are illegal. This may not be true in many other states but it brings up the thought that gradually the attractiveness of a job for illegals increases at the same rate that it decreases for legal workers and of course the issue is at least partly, wage deflation. Over time these jobs have negative appeal and sometimes negative connotations for legal workers. It would take some concerted effort to induce legal workers back into some fields of work, regardless of the wages. The well has become a bit poisoned and so the debate is more complicated. This is why a Senator like McCain can so confidently claim that legal workers would not, and more importantly could not do agricultural field work even for $50 per hour. It's a cynical jab at Americans but may have a bit of truth. These are, and should be part-time jobs. The simple fact that they're seasonal dictates that. For Americans to do these jobs they may need a bit more incentive than just the wages. They would have to believe that this kind of hard work was not demeaning or injurious to their psyche. All the pejorative dialog about "burger flipping" and "field worker" would either have to be changed or the wage would have to overcome the insults.

I'm fairly convinced we can use a good number of these illegal immigrants even under a documented system that treats taxpayers, businesses and the immigrant in a fair way. I think the levels of illegal immigration are in surplus to a fair policy so the first order of business is to secure the border. After all it's one of the fairly obvious Constitutional responsibilities of the Congress and I'm sure they're anxious to uphold their oath.
4.11.2006 2:50pm
Tom952 (mail):
The reason Americans will not do certain jobs for the same pay as illegal immigrants is that Americans understand what it costs to maintain themselves out of squalor.

In Florida, there are isolated rural communities with a few large landowners and the remaining population struggling to make a living with few opportunities. The landowners employ illegals at less than living wages to work the fields. The illegals require housing, schools, food, medical care, which is mostly provided by the taxes paid by the non-landowning residents of the community. The landowners get huge agricultural property tax breaks that help to make this happen. It is outrageous.

Those communities are a microcosm of the whole low paid illegal labor situation. All employers say the same thing - "I can't hire Americans for these jobs!" but the truth is that they would rather not pay a living wage for the production if they can avoid it, and to hell with the consequences on the community. A bunch of people making $5.hour = a slum.

For working people trying to make a living, this is quite bad. To compete for a job, they have to live the same low cost lifestyle of illegal immigrants - squalor and slums, welfare, unreliable automobiles, etc, to stretch their paycheck week to week.
4.11.2006 2:53pm
ksd:
To those who think that anyone making less than a "living wage" (whatever that is) in the U.S. is living in "squalor" or "poverty" or in "a slum" (to use some of the terms thrown out above), I suggest you spend some time traveling around the globe. The poorest and most destitute residents of the U.S. are fabulously well off by the standards of most of the world.

It is indeed possible to support yourself and a family quite well for just dollars a day in much of the globe. Services cost a lot less (labor is cheap!) and the perception of what constitutes a decent standard of living does not include a 3 bedroom private home, 2 cars, refrigerator, multiple TV's and DVD players, satellite/cable TV, free schools, free high quality health care (yes, the poorest Americans do indeed get free health care), public sanitation systems, etc., etc. Even the poorest 5% of Americans are living in the Garden of Eden when compared to the standards of most of the world's population. Is it any wonder that people will gladly travel here to work for "substandard" wages? Though the quantity and quality of goods those wages offer seems poor by your standards, they are a king's ransom to those who gladly receive them.

Immigrant labor spreads the wealth from the richest to the poorest. The immigrants get jobs that offer much better quality of life for themselves and their families than they could have had back home. They often send money back home to help their impoverished families. They reduce the supply of labor in their home countries, causing unemployment to drop and wages to increase. All of these things are good for poor nations, and are good for America. Reducing poverty around the globe is both morally right, and in our own self interest. By keeping unskilled labor costs down in the U.S., we reduce the cost of maintaining our high standard of living. By increasing labor costs elsewhere, we reduce the incentive to ship higher paying jobs (including manufacturing) out of the country. By increasing the prosperity of poor countries, we open up markets for American goods and services, and reduce the likelihood that those places will support totalitarian ideologies.
4.11.2006 3:31pm
Challenge:
"Immigrant labor spreads the wealth from the richest to the poorest."

No, both the wealthy and the illegal immigrants benefit, as well as consumers generally (though the tax burden eliminates some if not all of this benefit). American workers that compete with immigrants are hurt. Why is this so difficult to understand or admit?
4.11.2006 3:38pm
John Lederer (mail):
My brother used to do some custom construction --very high end stuff like a window built of tree branches or a kitchen remodel with "artitic" counters, etc.

When he needed help he always hired older Mexicans. Why? It was not money. Much more skilled, a better work ethic, and a greater willingness to follow instructions...
4.11.2006 3:40pm
DRS:
Kristian:

"...the more that labor and capital were not operating under the protection of law, the more ineffecient the economy became. So, at least by that review, the net economic gain is likely to be minimal, if it exists at all."
Thanks for the book reference...however...a more than imperfect example lies to our South...hence the flight to the North.
4.11.2006 3:41pm
Whatever:
Challenge:

American workers that compete with immigrants are hurt. Why is this so difficult to understand or admit?


American workers that compete with immigrants are not hurt. They have lower wages, possibly, but are able to afford luxeries that were out of the reach of the lower class and lower middle class just a generation ago. That is because wages are low, consequently the cost of production is low, consequently the relative cost of goods and services is low, consequently the purchasing power of the dollar is high.

Say what you like about competition between illegal immigrants and legal workers, but we have an incredibly low unemployment rate, a relatively luxerious standard of living at every income level, and a growing economy. Your problem just doesn't exist....
4.11.2006 3:51pm
Challenge:
"American workers that compete with immigrants are not hurt. They have lower wages, possibly, but are able to afford luxeries that were out of the reach of the lower class and lower middle class just a generation ago."

Yeah, I know so many construction workers with maids and gardeners. Are you living in a cave somewhere? This all really makes sense to you?
4.11.2006 4:01pm
DRS:


KingOfMyCastle:

What people seem to forget when they are discussing the economic benefit of illegal aliens is that these benefits are outweighed by the huge burden they place on our social services.

Haven't you just stated the primary rationale for legalizing undocumented workers/bringing them into the system... so at least a portion of the SHADOW COSTS that you reference (health care, education...), can be inculcated into the cost of their labor?

AND substantial ineffciencies of the sub-market provision of services/goods such as Emergency Room medical care can be reduced?
Let
[MARKET WAGES = PECUNIARY WAGE + BENEFITS(health care...) + TAXES + SOCIAL SECURITY...]
Let
[BLACK MARKET WAGES = CASH WAGE] (no taxes witheld etc.
SCENARIO ONE:
Let
ACTUAL BLACK MARKET WAGE = BLACK MARKET WAGE + SHADOW COSTS)

Let : [NET LOSS = cost per item produced per hour to society of overproduction and over consumption of goods caused by Understated//depressed wages that do NOT reflect actual costs (SHADOW COSTS), thus leading to excessively cheap goods and the EMERGENCY ROOM inefficiencies you reference.
IF
[MARKET WAGES - (BLACK MARKET WAGE + SHADOW COSTS) > NET LOSS],
then undocumented labores are good for society, and should be retained.
However: Efficiency gains in provision of health care would be captured if the illegals are brought into the system to compensate for your SHADOW COSTS and move workers toward rationalized market health care. Effect: SHADOW COSTS currently paid by society will be imposed on the EMPLOYER, leading to a net social gain.
SCENARIO TWO:
Assume Undocumented are a net drain on society because:
[MARKET WAGES - (BLACK MARKET WAGE + SHADOW COSTS)< NET LOSS].
Your SHADOW COSTS still are extant... so it still behooves society to reduce the inefficiencies caused by the SHADOW COSTS you reference, and bring the workers into the system.
SCENARIO THREE:
Make the illegals go away?
Assuming we had that many buses, and you would drive one for free until they were gone...
To many court costs, because the Framers knew full well the importance of immigration (they were of course...IMMIGRANTS...) and provided that even undocumented persons are protect by the Constitution... unless they are declared to be terrorists....
========================================
4.11.2006 4:20pm
Challenge:
"Assuming we had that many buses, and you would drive one for free until they were gone."

We don't have to physically deport every illegal immigrant, just remove their incentive for being here--work. Actually enforce the law, and most will, over time, return to their countries of origin.
4.11.2006 4:25pm
jskdn:
If an industry can assert it isn't viable at market wage and be allowed to continue with cheaper imported labor, it will never be tested in the marketplace. And any business would have an obvious incentive to make such a claim.

This is not the role of any government that professes a belief in the market. You don't answer a question about the market viability of an industry by removing it from the market. It is rather about how political power allows some to be exempt from what most business and individuals must live with, a labor market.

Furthermore the real cost of the labor in a social welfare state may be beyond what an employer is paying. So is it better to shift the price externalities that stem from that onto others or have them represented in the product? Aren't price signals necessary for the rational functioning economic choices?
4.11.2006 5:16pm
DRS:

CHALLANEG

"We don't have to physically deport every illegal immigrant, just remove their incentive for being here--work. Actually enforce the law, and most will, over time, return to their countries of origin.


70% of Mexicans is Mexico are working...98% of undcoumented Mexicans in America are working..
Prevailing wage in Mexico is 1.90...
Therefor:
EXPECTED WAGE AMERICA
[.98 (BLACK MARKET WAGE)]

EXPECTED WAGE MEXICO:
[(.7)(1.90) = $1.33]

Sooo....to change the market signals so that "most will, over time, return to their countries of origin..." you will have to change employment rates and/or wages in America and/or Mexico so that the following equality holds:

EXEPECTED WAGE MEXICO = EXPECTED WAGE AMERICA
1.33 = EXPECTED WAGE IN AMERICA

Assume prevailing cash wages in America are 5.00 for undocumented...
To lower EXPECTED WAGE IN AMERICA to 1.33, you would have to lower employement rate of Illegals to some per cent amount "x" so that:
(X)(5.00) = 1.33
.266 (5.00) = 1.33

You would have to make the enforcement of your laws so effective that only 27% of illegals in Mexico could expect to be working at any given time....
It is what it is...the best we can do is hope to manage and mitigate the situtation.
STATISTICS SOURCE: U.N report.
4.11.2006 5:18pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
"jobs Americans won't do"

hell, I've done them. I'm a middle-aged bluecollar worker, I'm worth a considerable sum on paper, and I routinely operate on less than 5000 dollars in my checking account. I have no savings account. when times have called for it, I've demo'd buildings, slugged sheetrock (for 50 bucks a day, that cheapskate, but it beat sitting home), and several other things. sometimes it felt like I was never going to get out of it, but I always did.

would I do it again if I had to? yes.

it doesn't have to be a career.
4.11.2006 5:59pm
Challenge:
Finding the employers of illegals is very easy. You fine them enough for breaking the law so that they no longer have an incentive to hire, and most illegals won't be able to find a job. It isn't that difficult.

Further, your economic analysis is pretty poor. There is a premium in having the certainty of a job, and your "expected wage" formula neglects this. Deprived of social services to support their family and without a job, they will have to return home, the "expected wage" notwithstanding.
4.11.2006 6:05pm
Challenge:
Not to mention it's probably impossible to live on 1.33 an hour in the USA but not in Mexico.
4.11.2006 6:13pm
KingOfMyCastle:
DRS

Haven't you just stated the primary rationale for legalizing undocumented workers/bringing them into the system... so at least a portion of the SHADOW COSTS that you reference (health care, education...), can be inculcated into the cost of their labor?

If we bring them into the system (require employers to pay health care, increase wages, etc.) won't that then erase the benefit of hiring them in the first place? The main reason that they are in demand now is because employers get a steal.

Maybe you're on to something... We bring them into the system and make the increased costs to employers so prohibitive that they don't hire so many.

That would work with me as long as we also strictly refused public services to those that were not employed.
4.11.2006 6:18pm
Tinhorn (mail):
Methinks the premise of the initial post is reading too much into such statements. When I parse the word "job" in "a job an American won't do," I understand the speaker to mean the sum-total of the job, not just a description of the specific category of work.

Thus, "picking lettuce 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for $50 a day, with 2 weeks vacation" is a different job from "picking lettuce 6 hours a day, 4 days a week, for $30 a day, with 8 weeks vacation." (Also health benefits, job location, etc.) Indeed, while I would not likely take a job that entailed picking lettuce for any values that are likely to appear in the description, I certainly would if it were "picking lettuce 1 hour a day, 1 days a week, for $10,000 a day, with 51 weeks vacation." Consider -- I expect that most people who look at the want ads and see 20 listings for a receptionist would say there are 20 jobs listed, rather than one.

So yes, if one takes a narrow interpretation of "jobs Americans won't do," it can be made to sound more likely to be "false on its face." But under a reasonable -- and in my opinion intended -- interpretation (e.g., one "job" is "a $5-an-hour floor waxer in Building X with benefits Y"), the point is debatable. I don't have enough evidence to know whether the point is true or false, but I do not see it as virtually necessarily false.
4.11.2006 6:46pm
DRS:
CHALLENGE:
Correction on rational migration posted above.
DRS post above used $$1.90 hourly wage...that number way overstates wage in Mexico...and understates our challenge...that figure was for Autmobile manufacturing wages...1.90 per hour...I thought that was way to high...
More appropriate approximation is 62 cents an hour is prevailing wage in Mexico....
============
CORRECTED VERY ROUGH OVERSIMPLIFIED EXAMPLE ESTIMATE:
As of 2003, 40 million workers in Mexico...
25% of those working Mexicans in Mexico earned mimum wage of 4 dollars PER DAY and another half of Mexican workers in Mexico earned 8 dollars PER DAY.
Average wage of that cohort...3/4 of Mexicos working poor...30 million workers...earned:
(.5)($8)+ .25($4) = $5 dollars PER DAY..or 62 cents an hour.
Source:
Plugging into the equation discussed above in prior DRS post:
Sooo....to change the market signals so that "most will, over time, return to their countries of origin..." you will have to change employment rates and/or wages in America and/or Mexico so that the following equality holds:

EXEPECTED WAGE MEXICO = EXPECTED WAGE AMERICA
(X)(5.00) = (1) .62
X = .124...
(Number "1" was used for probaility of working in Mexico...because these are Mexicans WORKING in Mexico.)
To disincentivize rational migration...America must use enforcement mechanisms to reduce employment level to 12% (88% of entering would have to fail to find work in America...)

Better approach is comprehensive: raise wages in Mexico through Marshall plan combined with enhanced border regulation to mitigate the current flow...combined with increased enforcementsanctions against employers combined with UPC code for "Guest Workers" ...combined with international humanitarian wage/environmental rules and regulations...combined with ..Combined with...combined with...sounds like we must all become social engineers...flow markets flow.
Illegal migration North is a rational imperative...it would be irrational NOT to go North...
4.11.2006 6:53pm
Challenge:
DRS,

I'm glad you like playing with numbers, but if you think we'd have to reduce employment to 12% to meaningfully deter illegal immigration, you're just crazy. Purchasing power is not equal, of course, and I'm pretty sure you understand that. Nor do you account for the premium that one places on having job security. Nor do you account for the premium one places on staying in one's country.

Further, as I have noted, we know which employers are to blame. It's not difficult to investigate or prove. It's not inconceivable that we could create an enforcement regime where very few employers would see a financial advantage of employing illegals.

Of course it's rational that many poor Mexicans want to work in the USA. I'd imagine that given the opportunity, a majority of the world's population would do so.
4.11.2006 7:11pm
Tom952 (mail):
ksd:
To those who think that anyone making less than a "living wage" (whatever that is) in the U.S. is living in "squalor" or "poverty" or in "a slum" (to use some of the terms thrown out above), I suggest you spend some time traveling around the globe. The poorest and most destitute residents of the U.S. are fabulously well off by the standards of most of the world.
I have spent time outside the U.S. What does that have to do with paying people within the U.S. less than they need to buy decent food, housing, utilities, clothes, transportation, medical care - in the U.S.?

Business owners love illegals, but there are negative consequences for the rest of the community.

When a picker is paid $120 a week in a rural community in FL, someone is going to have to make up the slack in order for him and his family to live.

And when an American tradesman(woman) has to cut their wages sharply to compete with illegals, their standard of living suffers. There is no plus side for them when the contractors are building $500k homes in Naples. It is not as though the homes would be $600k without the illegals. The savings are nothing but profit for the developer.

An ironic twist is that the illegals from Mexico, when faced with a serious personal health crisis, can go home to Mexico and obtain affordable health care. The American tradesman has no such option.
4.11.2006 10:53pm
wallace4:
I have spent time outside the U.S. What does that have to do with paying people within the U.S. less than they need to buy decent food, housing, utilities, clothes, transportation, medical care - in the U.S.?

If certain folks don't have the ability to deliver, through their labor, value for money, that's their problem.

If you personally want to help them, good for you. But please, don't ask others, at the risk of imprisonment, to do your charitable efforts for you.

What is there about coercive charity that you don't understand?

And definitively, the finger-jabbing "osk not" rhetoric, especially when compared with the personal behavior of the utterer, is way past its expiration date.
4.12.2006 12:15am
DRS:
CHALLENGE:
You raise some good questions...
If you are interested in an article that adds multiple variables to my elementary equation/model...but that establishes exactly what I have posited...I suggest you start with National Bur. Econ Research/Univ. Calif article.You raise some valid points...however, they do not alter the fundamental characteristic driving immigration that the illustrations I presented generally describe, and that any attempt to mitigate illegal immigration must consider:

Mexicans choosing to enter illegally stand to acquire an 8 to 12 fold increase in pecuniary wages paid.

Relative cost of living differentials:
You are correct...cost of living differentials reduce the incentive to move North...but the differential is still staggering.
In 2000, Mexico's PPP-adjusted price level was 61% of the U.S. price level. SOURCE: National Bureau of Economic Research/Univ Cal...
Assuming actual wages paid are 10 times greater in the US...adjusting for price differentials...then 61% of 10 fold increase still affords illegals a 6 fold increase in real wages if they enter US.
---
SIDE NOTE:
You are correct of course: Increased enforcement will lead to job instability for illegals, reduce the EXPCTED WAGE they receive in America...causing fewer to choose to go North or stay North.
However...the increased job instability imposed on illegals through aggressive enforcement of the laws is simply another form of EMPLOYMENT RISK, and does not alter the fundamental equation.
Market driven unemployment is a form of RISK...as reflected in employment/unemployment rates.
Probability of an illegal being caught in America is simply another type of unemployment RISK...caused by governmental regulation as opposed to market forces because government somehow knows better than markets. Effect: The original equation I posited:
EXPECTED WAGE MEXICO = EXPECTED WAGE AMERICA
(X)(5.00) = (1) .62
...Can be re-written as:
(X)(Y)(5.00) = (1).62
Where (X)(Y) is the probability of an illegal gaining employment and then being caught. (X)(Y) can be simply be called JOB RISK.
Mexico, as noted in my post above, has a JOB RISK of 30%.
Put another way:
The wage an illegal earns when he or she is caught is $00.00.
Inculcating your suggestion into the original equation:
EXPECTED $$WAGE AMERICA = [(.98)($5)-(Probability being caught)($$WAGE WHEN CAUGHT)]
So the equation can be re-written as:
EXPECTED WAGE AMERICA = [(.98)($5) - (Probability being caught)($00.00)]
---
Of course the numbers I used in prior posts were simply to demonstrate that the magnitude of the EXPECTED WAGE DIFFERENTIAL is so great that it is not subject to remedy through governmental regulation. Were the differentials substantially lower...I might be more in agreement with you.
4.12.2006 6:54am
Challenge:
DRS,

I can respect your judgment is a sincere one, though I believe you are very wrong. Let me just leave you with one thought: If the argument is that we can't enforce the law, so we have to change it, shouldn't we at least see if this is true first? As it is today, the law is not enforced. Let's give the government the resources and some refined tools and enforce the existing law. Only then will we know whether you are right or not.
4.12.2006 4:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

American workers that compete with immigrants are not hurt. They have lower wages, possibly, but are able to afford luxeries that were out of the reach of the lower class and lower middle class just a generation ago. That is because wages are low, consequently the cost of production is low, consequently the relative cost of goods and services is low, consequently the purchasing power of the dollar is high.
Not everyone gets the same benefit from the lowered costs induced by illegal immigrant labor. If you hire gardeners, maids, or nannys, yes, you are getting the benefit of this. If you eat out frequently, you get the benefit of cheap busboys and cooks. If you buy houses, you get the benefit of cheaper housing construction costs.

But the people injured by cheap illegal immigrant labor are largely people making less than $15 per hour. They might be benefiting from cheaper food production costs, but it is highly questionable whether having food cost 3% less compensates for having their wages be 3% less.
4.13.2006 12:34pm