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Response to "Jobs Americans Won't Do":
Eugene raises an interesting point in his post below, but I confess that my instinct is different: It seems to me that when considering a claim about attitudes toward a market good or service, the price of that good or service is an essential part of the claim. For example, imagine someone says, "The new Oldsmobile sedan is really ugly; I'll bet no one will buy one." I think it's implicit in the claim that the sedan is being offered at a market price comparable to other cars. Surely there is some price point at which people would start buying the cars, but normally this need not be made explicit. Similarly, I think it's implicit in the phrase "no one else will do that job" that the no one else will do the job for roughly the currently offered wage. That's my sense, at least.
Zubon (mail) (www):
Some surely mean that. As pointed out in the comments to the post, though, some people literally mean Americans will not take the work at any price, even at $50/hour.
4.11.2006 11:32am
Henry Bowman:
I think that many people actually believe that Americans simply "won't do that job." This I find absurd: if cheap labor is restricted, then of course the job will get done if it needs to be done, either by people already living here (at a higher wage), or by some substitute such as a machine.

There are many examples of employers switching to machines when labor costs increase. Tomato pickers [for certain typs of tomatoes] were invented in response to such. I recall as a teenager being amazed that cotton growers would not pay more than $0.275/lb for hand-picked cotton, but instead found it more profitable to use mechanical cotton pickers, which left perhaps 20% of the cotton in the field, versus virtually 0% for hand-picked cotton. $0.275/lb is not very much money, as someone extremely good at picking cotton could rarely manage 300 lb/day!
4.11.2006 11:38am
Tennessean (mail):
Zubon - do you think there are more than the slightest handful of people who won't work an hour at pretty much any job you assign them for $1,000,000 an hour? $100,000,000 an hour?

For anyone faced with scarcity, which is to say just about all of us (trying not to impede on the atheism thread here), everyone probably has a price point. Accordingly, Prof. Kerr must be about universally correct.
4.11.2006 11:40am
Jim Hu:
Tennessean - would people do those jobs for more than an hour or two? I wouldn't!
4.11.2006 11:49am
Henry Bowman:
An update on my earlier comment: I did not mean to write $0.275/lb, but, rather, $0.0275/lb! That is, $2.75 per hundred pounds...quite a difference!
4.11.2006 11:54am
Eric Rasmusen1 (mail):
I think Prof. Kerr is correct in what people mean, but people mean that only because they fundamentally misunderstand the situation. Somebody says, "We need immigrants because no American would do that job", and they mean "We need immigrants because if the immigrants disappeared, the wage would stay the same and no Americans would do that job at that wage." Of course, once the meaning is stated that way, its flaw is apparent: the wage won't stay the same-- it will rise to where Americans will take the job (or the job will be converted to machinery, which will provide employment for whoever makes the machines).
4.11.2006 11:55am
Cold Warrior:
My sense is that the phrase -- "jobs Americans won't do" -- is typically used in Sen McCain's sense. See the lengthy quote in the comments thread below, in which the Senator opined that Americans simply wouldn't be willing to spend all day everyday picking lettuce even if it paid $50/hour.

In other words, there is this sense that certain jobs are so physically demanding and/or degrading that Americans simply lack the desire to do them, whatever the wage. And as Prof. Volokh notes, this has become the key rhetorical device used by legalization advocates.

Let's examine the rhetoric for a moment:

-- there is an implicit stereotyping of the immigrant as a Mexican. Yes, Mexican nationals form the bulk of illegal/undocumented (choose your term) immigrants. But not the overwhelming majority. There are huge populations of Central Americans, Africans, Middle Easterners, South Asians, etc.

-- this stereotyping serves a purpose: Mexico and Mexicans are more familiar (to use Edward Said's language, they are not thought of as "the other," inscrutable foreigners with strange cultural and religious practices). And most Americans have direct or indirect experience with Mexicans, and -- because I believe we are generally a decent and optimistic people --most Americans have internalized a positive stereotype of the Mexican worker or family.

-- similar language is also used to load the debate: "they're not criminals, they've just come here to work and support their families." Setting aside for a moment the issue of illegal entry, how do we know "they're not criminals?" Indeed, a significant percentage have criminal records. My impression -- based on years of experience -- is that the crime rate for common, non-violent offenses (particularly DUIs and domestic violence offenses) is far higher among recent arrivals than it is for long-term residents or citizens. Would someone please study this, or are we consigned to a neverending positive stereotype of the noble, law-abiding laborer saving his crumpled dollar bills to send home to his family in Mexico? When our representatives say that a legalization program will benefit people "who've obeyed the laws," what do they mean? Will a DUI conviction disqualify you? Two DUIs? A domestic violence conviction? I can assure you the numbers involved here are far from trivial.

-- The idea that (illegal) immigrants "do the jobs Americans won't do" is also belied by the statistics. Again, I haven't seen a good study of the issue, but it shouldn't be difficult to study. Part of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli legislation was the creation of the Special Agricultural Worker program (SAW). Two things stand out to anyone who works in the immigration arena:

1. I have encountered hundreds (if not thousands) of SAW legalization immigrants over the years. Not a single one of them was still working in the fields. Therefore, I suggest a corollary to the "they take the jobs Americans won't" canard: "Illegal aliens take the jobs legalized aliens won't do."

2. The program itself was rife with fraud. Best estimates at the time assumed that since there were no more than 50,000 or so itinerant fieldworkers, the maximum number of SAW applicants INS would see would be, well, about 50,000. SAW applications exceeded that number by a factor of at least 3 or 4. Think of this when you read legislation such as the recent Senate compromise bill, which would allow legalization for those who've been here "since January 7, 2004." How many folks who arrived last week will claim (and produce evidence) to show they've been here since that magic date? This is a field rife with unscrupulous practitioners ("immigration consultants" or notarios) who will manufacture whatever their clients need. I can't believe Congress is so naive; I think they know full well what they're inviting, and the magic 1-7-04 date is for political salesmanship and is not based on sound policy or analysis.

-- the idea that all Mexican illegal aliens perform only menial, minimum (or sub-minimum) wage jobs. Yes, this is typically true for the newest arrivals. However, examine the construction trade. New arrivals will start in the least-skilled jobs: landscaping, painting, etc. As they gain experience, they will begin to do more highly-skilled jobs: drywalling, framing, etc. Eventually, many will move on to highly-skilled trades: plumbing, electrical, you name it. These are jobs that pay $15-25/hour and up. They were done by Americans and legal immigrants just a decade ago. Where I live, you would be hard-pressed to find an American drywaller (perhaps $10/hour) today, and in a few years you will probably find very few American framers and electrical workers. It is only the trade unions that keep Americans and legal immigrants in the most-highly compensated jobs, such as licensed electricians and plumbers.

Victor Davis Hanson's Mexifornia is the most honest examination of this system that I've seen. [Disclosure: I don't much like Hanson's bread-and-butter work on history of warfare, and I don't agree with much of his politics.] Read it -- much of it was excerpted, I think in the City Journal, and may still be available online for free -- and you will get a much fuller understanding of how complex this issue really is; if only it were so simple that it could be summed up in the soundbite, "they take jobs Americans won't do."
4.11.2006 12:05pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Assuming arguendo that there are jobs that Americans would not do at any price, then why would it be okay to expect anyone of any nationality to do that job?

Put another way, if the job is so bad that one would effectively have to be compelled to do it, as a slave might be, or someone otherwise on penalty of his or her life and safety, it is exploitation at best if undocumented immigrants are so forced by circumstances that they would do it.
4.11.2006 12:06pm
frankcross (mail):
I think Orin's sense is correct. Although to some degree the rhetoric is aimed at the middle class, and these are jobs that middle class persons wouldn't do, unless the pay were princely, which is not going to happen.

The claim that these jobs are so bad "that one would effectively have to be compelled to do it . . . on penalty of his or her life and safety" is hardly applicable. Immigrants risk their lives and safety just for the chance to get one of these jobs.
4.11.2006 12:15pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Tenesseean:
Zubon - do you think there are more than the slightest handful of people who won't work an hour at pretty much any job you assign them for $1,000,000 an hour? $100,000,000 an hour?
You aren't thinking creatively enough. Are there jobs you would not do for any price? Would you prostitute yourself? If you would do it for a million dollars, how about a hundred? Once we've established what kind of person you are, it's just a matter of haggling over price, isn't it?

I'm not saying you are a prostitute, nor am I saying that nobody is willing to do this (obviously). But I hope you understand that there are things so debasing or dangerous or awful for whatever reason that nobody (or at least, very very few) would ever do them voluntarily.
4.11.2006 12:17pm
Defending the Indefensible:
frankcross:
The claim that these jobs are so bad "that one would effectively have to be compelled to do it . . . on penalty of his or her life and safety" is hardly applicable. Immigrants risk their lives and safety just for the chance to get one of these jobs.
Your analysis doesn't take into consideration the circumstances from which the undocumented immigrants may have fled.
4.11.2006 12:21pm
Justin (mail):
One would think that a bunch of liberterians would have better faith in the market :)
4.11.2006 12:28pm
Just an Observer:
Fodder for debate, which I offer FYI but do not rush to endorse, from Stuart Taylor's proposal in his current National Journal column:


First, Congress should create a system of forgery-proof, theft-proof identity cards and a more robust enforcement process to put teeth in the laws against employing illegal immigrants. The influx of illegals will plunge if these workers cannot find jobs. ...

Second, as President Bush and others have suggested to a greater or lesser extent, Congress should in some way grandfather the millions of illegals who have already settled here to avoid disrupting their lives and those of the many Americans who depend on them. A forgery-proof, theft-proof identity card would do more harm than good if adopted as part of a punitive, enforcement-only immigration law. ...

Third, Congress should raise the minimum wage from the current $5.15 to at least $9.15 per hour, for Americans and legal residents only. And to dispel concerns about killing jobs that aren't worth $9.15 per hour to employers, Congress should reimburse employers for some or all of the increase. ...

(My emphasis)

Note: This link is ethereal, as National Journal will replace the column next week with a new one.
4.11.2006 12:36pm
WB:
I don't think that either Volokh or Kerr has expressed any lack of faith in "the market." The posts are directed at examining how much explanatory value attaches to one of the rhetorical points being tossed around in the immigration debate.
4.11.2006 12:37pm
Fran (mail) (www):
There is a Libertarian argument that a minimum wage is interference in the marketplace. Now we all know that the marketplace has govt interference in it at many levels.
I suggest that turning a blind eye to the illegal immigration policy is interference in the marketplace. If the job won't be done for the pay that is offered, then either the job will not get done that way or the pay offered, will increase.

What amazes me about this debate is the lack of focus on the security aspect of allowing undocumented people into this country. The infamous GOP line of: pre or post 9/11 mentality, shows just how important illegal immigrants, or a new underclass of 'guest workers' are to the calculations of business.
4.11.2006 12:38pm
Mike C (mail):
"I'm not saying you are a prostitute, nor am I saying that nobody is willing to do this (obviously). But I hope you understand that there are things so debasing or dangerous or awful for whatever reason that nobody (or at least, very very few) would ever do them voluntarily."

The arguement that picking strawberries is somehow debasing is absurd. Its hard work, sure. What we seem to be running into is some sort of racial identity: that Americans are too spoiled to put their hands in the dirt, but Mexicans...?

What I think is a Zubon is trying to say is that every job has a price, and Americans certainly would do them for the right wage. (This is exempting prostitution, baby harvesting, and any other morally difficult "job Americans won't do" that you can come up with Tenesseean).
4.11.2006 12:42pm
Govman (mail):
The whole immigration debate is so obnoxious because there really isn't as a group "jobs Americans won't do." As Eugene points out, Americans won't work at the wages offered for the hours required. And what a surprise...In some industries (fairly well compensated at that) the firms go out declaring that they can't find Americans to fill the positions, so they can hire immigrants from abroad. Now, part of the reason they can't find Americans to do the jobs, is because they work them too hard and pay them too little (more work them too hard), so people find jobs doing something else.

What fools claiming "jobs Americans won't do" must be too dense to realize, is that this is a problem, with the industry not the individuals. If your business model calls for hiring immigrants because they'll work and work because they're on a visa which requires them to do a job or they'll get sent back to that ****hole they came from, maybe...just maybe the business model and not "Americans" are the problem.

One thing too, if the price of labor goes up...horror of horror, people will switch from manual labor to greater automation, but here's the thing...now there's a greater demand for the automating machines...which are probably made by more skilled tool and die workers. Interesting isn't? So jobs are still there (although granted fewer), but most would think of them as more skilled or better jobs.

As with much in politics, the whole conversation just feels so grating, like people actually accept the **** they're being peddled? Although, I guess the polls suggest they do not. The Congress is just going to ignore us anyway.
4.11.2006 12:43pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Fran:
What amazes me about this debate is the lack of focus on the security aspect of allowing undocumented people into this country. The infamous GOP line of: pre or post 9/11 mentality, shows just how important illegal immigrants, or a new underclass of 'guest workers' are to the calculations of business.
How many terrorists are thought to have infiltrated the United States across the Mexican border without documentation? Why would a well-funded organization like Al Qaeda want to try to sneak people across with a bunch of Latinos when they were perfectly able to obtain visas for most of the alleged perpetrators of 9/11? I think a couple were supposed to have come across the Canadian border, though.
4.11.2006 12:44pm
DensityDuck (mail):
People, let's not forget about the Minimum Wage. It isn't so much that Americans won't work for the wages employers want to pay, it's that it's illegal for Americans to work for less than a certain wage. Maybe I would be willing to dig ditches for twenty bucks a day plus lunch, but I don't get the choice--I have a Social Security Number, which means that I must be paid at least six-fifty an hour.

Of course, as others have pointed out, there isn't a one-to-one equivalence. If ditchdiggers cost six-fifty an hour, it might be cheaper to rent a backhoe...
4.11.2006 12:48pm
Tennessean (mail):
1. I agree with the notion, voiced above, that the jobs-Americans-won't-take rhetoric is really covering up the concern that banning the use of this source of cheap labor will change the economy in ways we find distasteful (e.g., the work won't get done, the work will get done with higher labor costs, the work will get done by machines, the work will get done _in_ these immigrants' home countries).

2. I re-assert my position that the assertion that someone would not take the job implies a certain wage (or wage range). Even the most reviled positions (here, it seems to be prostitution and baby harvesting) would most likely be filled at a high enough price -- the problem is that for most of us, money has diminishing value (so $100,000,000 is not really worth twice $50,000,000). But, if prostituting myself out would be the cost of bringing about world peace or getting into heaven, e.g. (and really, are those any less realistic than $100,000,000 per?), I think you'd find volunteers.

Making the dubious assumptions of rational preferences (i.e., no intersecting preference curves), there should always be something that can be exchanged for any job (except, perhaps, where a person's highest value, greater than anything else, is not to do that one particular job).
4.11.2006 12:51pm
Fran (mail) (www):
Defending the Indefensible

You wrote:

"How many terrorists are thought to have infiltrated the United States across the Mexican border without documentation?'

I don't know. Neither do you or our govt.
My point is to suggest that the first job a govt is a monopoly on power and the law. Well...if we don't control who or what gets into this country...the govt isn't performing it's most basic function.
4.11.2006 1:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Interesting arguments on illegal labor as a counter to the minimum wage. Anybody got data comparing the # of illegals to the creation &rise of the minimum?

Btw, concur w/ Kerr; barring a caste system where Untouchables must do work we "won't" do, then people will indeed do the work. It might just cost more. (Think of working in a chicken-processing plant, which lots of Mexicans do here in Mississippi. How desperate would *you* have to be to take that job?)
4.11.2006 1:07pm
David Matthews (mail):
"roughly the currently offered wage"

Here's another problem. In certain areas, the "currently offered wage" has dropped substantially in the past few years, thanks to the huge influx of illegal immigrants. I have several friends who used to make a living doing roofing contracting work. Well, the cheaper labor, compounded with contractors who don't pay unemployment insurance, or workman's compensation, etc. (they don't have to, as long as they're operating "under the radar") have driven the legitimate operators out of business. This has happened primarily in the past 5 years or so.

It's important to remember that wages are only a small part of the costs of legitimate business, and that by deciding to go "shadow economy," employers, whether they themselves are legal or illegal residents, can save huge amounts and undercut the competition, as long as they're not afraid of any potential consequences -- and there have been darn near zero consequences of late.

Many contractors who use the excuse "I can't get Americans to show up every day, etc." are covering for the fact that they are saving huge by not paying the various payroll taxes, and are taking advantage of folks, who by virtue of their immigrant status, can't file for workman's compensation if injured, or unemployment if laid off, or complain to OSHA if safety rules are not followed, etc.
4.11.2006 1:14pm
Whatever:
Two points (maybe three):

1)DD: You should have no problem finding under-the-table work just because you have a Social- Security number. In fact, it's probably easier than finding under-the-table work as an illegal immigrant. People tend to act like there is some huge block of employment that is reserved for illegal immigrants. Go to into any not-so-fancy restaurant in a big city and you will probably be waited on by a college kid working illegally, get your house painted this summer and you'll probably see 13-15 year olds working for $5 per hour. I've worked as a day laborer, cash in hand at the end of the day, never signing anything, and I'm a lilly-white New England boy.

2)People are confusing their issues: Is this a homeland security issue, or an economic issue? Are there really terrorists sneaking up from Mexico? And, most importantly, is this really an economic problem? What are we trying to solve and why? If we strictly enforce labor laws, send all illegal immigrants back, and build an impenatrable wall around the whole nation, will we be any safer? Any better off economically?

3)People keep talking about what effects various proposals would have on prevailing wages, but don't address what would happen to the purchasing power of the dollar. If we enforce labor laws and picking fruit and hanging drywall suddenly become well-paying jobs jobs done by legal workers, wages may go up, sure, but the price of goods and services will also skyrocket.

Likewise, what's wrong with the current economic situation? Unemployment is at 4.7% which is certainly low and may even be near target. Super-low unemployment would lead to the same kinds of problems as stated above, competition for employees would increase, wages would jump, and the cost of goods and services would skyrocket. Totally unstable.

I like things the way they are.
4.11.2006 1:16pm
Cold Warrior:
First of all, let's forget about the minimum wage arguments.

The Mexican undocumented workers/illegal aliens DO NOT work for less than the minimum wage. Very often they work without other state and federally mandated workplace protections and benefits, thereby lowering an employer's cost of employing them. [Even "employer" and "employing" are loaded terms here, since most of the time we are dealing with what are ostensibly independent contractor relationships.]

Case in point: I met a family last week -- a blended U.S. citizen/illegal alien family -- who were planning to pick cotton in Texas this season. Rate of pay: $6.75/hour. There is really no business left in the United States in which the unadjusted (i.e., not taking into account benefits) cost of labor is less than the current minimum wage.

As for Stuart Taylor's proposal: yes, a national "work card" is essential for any kind of temporary worker program to succeed. If the paranoid-type libertarians can't stomach that, they can't support this kind of legislation. And no, a bifurcated minimum wage is a horrible idea. It would simply create demand for illegal workers instead of the newly "legalized" workers. Remember, under all plans there's some kind of cut-off date. The "undocumented immigrant" wants a document primarily for this reason: it will allow him to obtain a higher-paying job. (Yes, it will also allow him to come and go, which is important but no doubt secondary.) And without stringent employer-based enforcement (which can only succeed with a national work ID), one result of a massive legalization program will be the creation of a new class of "undocumented workers," willing to work for less money/fewer benefits than the prevailing "legal" rate.
4.11.2006 1:21pm
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
Volokh 1, Kerr 0. The rhetoric, especially the rhetoric used by liberals, is demeaning toward and dismissive of American workers. The implication is that American workers are lazy and unproductive, and that they just won't do hard physical labor, so if you want to get good, hard workers who "aren't afraid of a little hard work," you need to import them, preferably from Mexico. You just need to listen to the speeches made at yesterday's pro-illegal immigration rallies to hear politicians praise illegal immigrants for being the kind of good workers this country needs, in contrast to native-born Americans.

Liberals used to be split on this issue, as those who supported the unions' position used to oppose illegal immigration as unfair competition for American workers, lowering wages even further for low-paid labor. But as most unions have lost interest in low-paid workers -- and as those unions that still represent manual laborers have lost dues paying members, so have welcomed illegal immigrants as replacements -- unions have switched their position, and union-friendly liberal politicians have followed.

It may be true that politicians and journalists who promote the benefits of illegal immigration are primarily interested in their own ability to hire cheap nannies, maids, and gardeners, and so understand the low-wage argument perfectly well. But they certainly do not argue in public that illegal immigration is good because it undercuts the wages at which Americans will take those jobs.
4.11.2006 1:27pm
Justin (mail):
Cold Warrior is right - the minimum wage has decreased in real value so much that nobody, not even illegals, can afford to live on it, and salaries have increased as a result (note that this does not apply to middle class and upper middle class kids who get a job because their parents make them - the largest, by far, share of the min wage market.

As far as the rhetoric here, the minimum wage is unimportant - if the market works even marginally well, and these are economically advantageous things to do, people will do it at some eonomically viable price.

What we have here instead, is that the rate of return on investments has gotten so high (due to increasing inequality and stagnant wages), that investors have gotten "greedy" and have, in order to remain competitive, been forced to aggressively (and usually illegally) cut wages and nonwage benefits to workers, further driving the inequality barrier that has caused today's "rich man's recovery."

But now we're completely off point - the original point was, that if the thing was worth doing, the market would be able to allocate the job legally, even if that meant paying someone substantially more.
4.11.2006 1:30pm
Justin (mail):
Gary, do you have any evidence to back the following: "[t]he rhetoric, especially the rhetoric used by liberals" or are you just saying there's a de facto rule that if a liberal does it, it is a priori particularly bad?
4.11.2006 1:32pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Tennesseean:
But, if prostituting myself out would be the cost of bringing about world peace or getting into heaven, e.g. (and really, are those any less realistic than $100,000,000 per?), I think you'd find volunteers.
Could you conceivably believe that you can achieve world peace or get into heaven by sucking johns for money?
4.11.2006 1:44pm
Cold Warrior:
Penitentes have flogged themselves as the cost of getting into heaven.

Every week terrorists blow themselves up to get to heaven.

We're wandering off point here...
4.11.2006 1:49pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Gary Imhoff, I was the one who posted the quote about even American workers wouldn't pick lettuce for $50, you know who said that? John McCain who has a big ol R next to his name.
4.11.2006 1:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
There's an article in USA Today about this question (I can't seem to link to it here, for some reason) that contains some interesting claims and some data:
For some Americans, however, illegal immigrants loom as a direct threat to their livelihood. Jobless for three months, construction worker Michael Williams, 49, says the immigrant workers he sees gathered outside Los Angeles area Home Depots will work for half his customary $100 daily wage. "You have a lot of illegal aliens here," says Williams. "It takes food off the table."

Measured against the passions it arouses, immigration's economic consequences are surprisingly modest, economists say. Less than 5% of the nation's 148 million workers are illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. By one estimate, immigrants raise total economic output by $21.5 billion — equivalent to less than one day of extra output each year. "We know that the net benefit of immigration is very small," says George Borjas, an economist at Harvard University who specializes in the subject.

Transfer of wealth

Yet, that tiny economywide number masks a major redistribution of wealth. The cross-border movement of generally low-skilled, low-educated immigrants has depressed wages for unskilled native workers while helping keep consumer prices under control and inflating profits for employers.

Borjas estimates that workers lose $278 billion because of immigration, while employers gain $300 billion. "There's a huge redistribution away from workers to people who use immigrants. ... That's what people are arguing about," says Borjas, an immigration specialist.

...

Surging immigration inflates unemployment for native workers on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and appears to be driving some out of the labor force altogether, says Steven Camarota of CIS.

From 2000 to 2005, the percentage of the least-educated workers who left the labor force rose from 40.9% to 43.7%, while the share of foreign-born dropouts barely changed.

"Natives with relatively little education are leaving the labor market in droves," Camarota says. "This should not look like this at this point in an economic recovery."

States where immigrants' share of the labor force jumped the most from 2000 to 2005 have seen some of the sharpest declines in labor force participation by less-educated Americans. In Maryland, the percentage of unskilled Americans working fell from 73.2% to 65.5%, while immigrants as a share of the workforce rose from 12.7% to 22.1%, Camarota says. Similar sharp increases were noted in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

Do immigrants take jobs from Americans? Wednesday, President Bush urged the Senate to endorse his guest worker proposal, saying: "There are people here working hard for jobs Americans won't do."

But Census Bureau data show that 17 million less-educated Americans work in occupations where immigrants are heavily represented. Example: 1.7 million immigrants and 1.2 million Americans work in building cleaning and maintenance. Replacements for the foreign-born workers could be found among the 362,000 native workers with experience in that field who remain unemployed, Camarota says.

Put another way, there are 2.3 million unemployed Americans who last worked in one of five job categories such as food preparation, farming or construction that currently employ 7.9 million immigrants.
4.11.2006 2:09pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Let's face the truth. Americans are willing to do things like coal mining. If anything was a job that we should be unwilling to do, it would be going down in the ground and digging around.

But Americans do do it. Why? Good wages and (shudder) unions who help protect worker interests. Importing the Third World to do jobs we can't outsource is just designed to depress the market wages of legal immigrants and citizens.

The sad thing is that everyone is so focused on pandering to Hispanics that the political geniuses in the White House are missing a great opportunity to drive more blacks and union workers from the Democrats.
4.11.2006 2:40pm
Challenge:
Orin, but many individuals on that side of the debate actually believe these are jobs Americans won't do, even for very high wages. One of these nuts is a prominent US Senator.


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
4.11.2006 2:49pm
Whatever:
Alright... Jeez... I'm sure I'm missing some glaringly obvious issue that everyone else here finds so clear that they don't even need to raise it, but what is the problem? I have yet to hear any politician elucidate a problem with illegal immigration and identify its solution. Is it a terrorism problem? If so, where is it? Is it economic? I don't see it, unemployment is at least close to where it ought to be, we still have a productive economy. I just don't for the life of me see what people are getting all worked up over, Ds and Rs alike. Honestly, I think Bush's plan has some merit (and I'm quite a liberal). The only problems I can see are that a lot of illegal immigrants are not getting the services they need, so lets make them legal, provide them with the services they need, and move on...

Certainly millions of immigrants from Latin America will have some effect on our country, does anyone really think it'll be a bad thing? All the work that needs to get done is getting done, our goods and services are amazingly affordable, providing a luxerious middle-class life for even the likes of me, I can still afford to pay my taxes and still have enough left over to consume crap at the normal American rate, and now I can buy good Mexican food at the local supermarket... I'm pretty well in heaven... Who here is having their life ruined by illegal immigrants?
4.11.2006 2:52pm
GreenGuy (mail) (www):
Please, sorry for post, deleted him
4.11.2006 2:52pm
Anon7:
I have tried backbreaking agricultural labor (not picking lettuce, but rather strawberries). My prediction is that at $50/hr., a lot of Americans would sign up to do it. But at the end of a 10 hour shift, 90% of them would quit.
4.11.2006 3:45pm
Justin (mail):
Well Anon7,

at $50 an hour, American workers would be training to pick lettuce from childhood. They'd grow into it, there would even be families of lettuce pickers. Over time, there would be a substantial amount of people with both the desire and the ability to pick lettuce at $50 an hour.

I mean, its not like Mexican illegal immigrants are genetically superior. Just higher skilled.
4.11.2006 3:47pm
Justin (mail):
Tangentially, if one wants to a see an interesting vignette of the life choices of the latin american working classes (or just an excellent movie in general), the lead character in the excellent movie Maria Full of Grace starts out as a flower picker who cannot handle the work and ends up as a drug courier.
4.11.2006 3:50pm
Challenge:
1) I think those suggesting $50/hour would be insufficient are seriously detached from the reality of America's working poor.

2) Why the emphasis on agricultural work when that does not explain the immense growth of illegal immigration. These workers are not all becoming agricultural workers--they are competing against Americans in construction, food service, etc.

3) Why do we "need" to produce the products which rely on "backbreaking" work--this is why we have free trade, right? And for the above commenter concerned about the world's poor, free trade raises the standard of living in the same way. Critics also ignore the ability to substitute foods which are produced via mechanization and the ability to increase the mechanization of those products that now require manual labor.
4.11.2006 3:58pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I have yet to hear any politician elucidate a problem with illegal immigration and identify its solution. Is it a terrorism problem? If so, where is it? Is it economic? I don't see it, unemployment is at least close to where it ought to be, we still have a productive economy. I just don't for the life of me see what people are getting all worked up over, Ds and Rs alike. Honestly, I think Bush's plan has some merit (and I'm quite a liberal). The only problems I can see are that a lot of illegal immigrants are not getting the services they need, so lets make them legal, provide them with the services they need, and move on...
You aren't listening carefully enough, then.

1. The strongest argument is a national security problem. At least one al-Qaeda operative (a South African) was arrested a couple of years ago who came in illegally across the Rio Grande. Large numbers of OTMs (Other Than Mexicans) get arrested on a regular basis--many from other Latin American countries, but occasionally, large groups of Iranians get caught as well. Are they economic refugees or terrorist cells? Probably economic refugees, but who knows? If 100,000 people illegally cross the border, and even .1% are terrorists entering the U.S. as part of that stream, that's a LOT of potentially enemies.

2. In addition to the problem of driving down wages of unskilled and low skilled American workers (both citizens and legally present aliens), there is a large problem caused by the very low wages that illegals receive and to some extent, cause. That problem is that low paying employers aren't providing health insurance, and the costs of providing health care to these illegals (often through emergency rooms--a very inefficient method) gets picked up by the taxpayers. This has had dire consequences in places like California. Maybe this doesn't bother you, but it bothers me that employers are getting the benefit of cheap labor, and sticking the taxpayers (indirectly) with the costs.

Yes, this is a general problem of people in low paying jobs, and it isn't specific to illegals. It is more pronounced with the illegals, however, because they are willing to work for less, and are more likely to tolerate abusive working conditions because the alternative is going back to Mexico--where abusive working conditions might seem positively paradise.

3. Low skilled and unskilled workers in the U.S. are being injured by low wages caused by the flood illegal immigrants. You may not be concerned about this; I am. A society that mistreats its poorest members is not one of which I can be proud. Liberals may be horrified by this statmeent: There is more to life than just the pursuit of money.

4. How do you think the U.S. ended up in charge of Texas and California? Mexico was so desperate for people to develop both of these rich but largely empty states that they allowed almost anyone to move in and buy land, after making a pretense of becoming a Catholic. In the long run, it meant that there were large American minorities present whose primary loyalty remained to the values of the nation that they left. In the case of Texas, President Santa Anna provided a strong argument for separation (and many liberal Texans of Hispanic ancestry joined with Americans in that effort). In the case of California, Californians of American origin played a small role in the military conquest of California. (There's a very funny story about the effort to get General Vallejo to surrender to the Bear Flaggers--he kept getting them drunk when they came into the house to demand a surrender. They finally sent in a teetotaler!)

If you don't see the hazard in having a huge population of people whose national loyalty is at least divided--and in some cases, not divided at all, but still loyal to Mexico--consider what happens when California's population is 60% Hispanic, and some of the racist loons who want to restore Aztlan end up in charge.
4.11.2006 4:29pm
Cold Warrior:

Why the emphasis on agricultural work when that does not explain the immense growth of illegal immigration. These workers are not all becoming agricultural workers--they are competing against Americans in construction, food service, etc.

Why the emphasis on agricultural work?

Again, because it plays into the positive stereotype of the noble Mexican worker, willing to do the jobs Americans won't do to support his family. You're right: this is a minimal (and shrinking) component of the illegal workforce in America. The question whether these workers, agricultural or not, are outcompeting Americans for jobs remains open, and others (particularly Clayton Cramer above) point to strong anecdotal evidence that they are, or at least that they are driving down prevailing wages in certain occupations in certain regions.
4.11.2006 4:30pm
Cold Warrior:

If 100,000 people illegally cross the border, and even .1% are terrorists entering the U.S. as part of that stream, that's a LOT of potentially enemies.

Correct. So far, we are not aware of any terrorist having used the southern border as a means of entry. (We do, of course, know about Ressam and his LAX millenium bomb plot trying to enter from Canada.) But that is only because the legal means of entry have been widely available to well-financed, educated persons such as the 9/11 terrorists. As we become more effective at screening out such persons at the visa issuance stage and at the airport ports of entry, it is only natural to assume that the unsecured southern and northern borders will become preferred entry points. Q. So why isn't anyone complaining about Canada? A. (1) They are. We've registered lots of complaints through diplomatic channels about Canada's more lax admission policies; (2) even though Canada has more lax admission policies, it can't hold a candle to Mexico, which is: (a) riddled with corruption in law enforcement, such that a simple bribe may allow a terrorist to be admitted; (b) absolutely unable to control its own borders even when it apparently has the will to do so -- the flood of Central Americans coming into and through Mexico is proof of this. So Canada provides cause for concern, but Mexico is properly our chief worry.

Plus, let's not just focus on terrorists. What about ordinary criminals? Gang members? Their numbers (which are easily documented) far exceed the potential number of terrorists entering even in our most paranoid dreams. Open borders are open to everyone, not just hardworking honest laborers.

I am in favor of some kind of guest worker/legalization program. I don't like what's been proposed so far. But I have to say that the whole idea is farcical if we don't get a handle on real enforcement, both at the border and at the workplace.

Another point to illustrate the absurdity of today's situation: we have millions (literally) of "illegal" aliens in the United States now residing here with the permission of the Government. Salvadorans (in light of the civil war of the 1980s, and then in light of the earthquake of 2001) and Hondurans (in light of Hurricane Mitch) have Temporary Protected Status, which in the case of Salvadorans often means "here temporarily for the last 15 years." TPS for these groups has just been extended for another year. We have huge numbers of "illegal" aliens who've been given work authorization as they await their "adjustment of status" hearings (through which they may obtain a green card without having to leave the United States). In order to be issued a green card, they all need to obtain medical examinations and provide vaccination records. Of course, many of these people have been living here for a decade or more without ever being subjected to these requirements. So that's what our policy's become:

"You can't immigrate here unless you can show you don't have a communicable disease, unless you enter illegally and then marry a U.S. citizen, or unless your home country suffers an earthquake or a hurricane, in which case you'll be allowed to remain indefinitely and mingle with the general population with whatever disease you may have, but we absolutely positively won't give you a green card until you get a medical clearance."

Can anyone defend this kind of irrational policy? How did we come to this point?
4.11.2006 4:57pm
Justin (mail):
"Again, because it plays into the positive stereotype of the noble Mexican worker, willing to do the jobs Americans won't do to support his family."

Noble? That's the American stereotype of Mexicans? What utopian America are you living in?

I also disagree with your security analysis, CW. If only because the Canadian borders are FAR easier to traverse than the Mexican ones (we used only a tiny fraction of our border resources up north, and the border is significantly larger).
4.11.2006 5:29pm
Justin (mail):
PS Cold Warrior paints a picture of the Mexican border crossing much like one would cross into North Dakota from South Dakota. I don't have the numbers, but crossing illegally, if one doesn't have MAJOR money to pay in bribes (and one could suspect that it would be far harder for Asam Selah to make the bribe than for Jesus Lopez), is a life endangering endeavor. Often people, to succeed, must traverse either raging waters (where many die drowning) or through barren desert mountains at night (where many get lost and die of thirst). Furthermore, the chances of getting caught randomly are too high for a well organized group like Al Queda to take the risk - especially since it is far easier to recruit people who can get into this country legally to do the job (which is why human intelligence, rather than border guards, is our best defense against terrorism).
4.11.2006 5:32pm
Cold Warrior:

Noble? That's the American stereotype of Mexicans? What utopian America are you living in?

The America I see everyday. The America where focus groups responded positively to the image of the hardworking Mexican struggling to help his family, leading to the media campaign presenting this positive stereotype. (Again, don't get me wrong. I suspect the majority of undocumented workers actually are decent and reasonably honest, just like the rest of us. But a very significant percentage aren't -- again, just like the rest of us.)


I also disagree with your security analysis, CW. If only because the Canadian borders are FAR easier to traverse than the Mexican ones (we used only a tiny fraction of our border resources up north, and the border is significantly larger).


When we talk about terrorists spilling across the borders, we are not talking about homegrown native Mexican and Canadian terrorists. There may be some John Walker Lindhs in both countries, but that's not the concern. The concern is that nationals of other countries will take advantage of lax immigration policies in our neighboring countries, and use those countries as launching points for terrorist acts on the United States. Canada's immigration policies may let in (and let go) too many people of dubious intentions. Perhaps. But Mexico is clearly worse; it also shares a land border with other countries with similarly ineffective border controls. So the emphasis on Mexico rather than Canada is not displaced. I'm not particularly worried about this issue at all, but to the extent I'm worried, I'm more worried about the southern border.


Furthermore, the chances of getting caught randomly are too high for a well organized group like Al Queda to take the risk - especially since it is far easier to recruit people who can get into this country legally to do the job


True. And that's why I'm not so worried in general.


crossing illegally, if one doesn't have MAJOR money to pay in bribes (and one could suspect that it would be far harder for Asam Selah to make the bribe than for Jesus Lopez), is a life endangering endeavor. Often people, to succeed, must traverse either raging waters (where many die drowning) or through barren desert mountains at night (where many get lost and die of thirst).


Not true. The cost of being smuggled is still quite cheap. We typically hear about amounts on the order of $500 to $3000. It can be dangerous, particularly in the desert, through thirst or by attempting to cross a seemingly-still, but in reality icy cold and rapid-flowing irrigation canal. The main danger along the Rio Grande is getting caught, not drowning. But on a percentage basis, the danger is not so great. Mexicans and other illegal immigrants are rational, intelligent human beings (albeit often relatively uneducated), and they tend to make economically rational decisions, weighing the costs (including danger) and benefits of crossing.

This is another thing that bothers me about the immigration debate: part of the positive stereotyping of illegal immigrants is to make them look like absolutely desperate, starving people, willing to take any risk to save themselves and their families. In general, they are poor (certainly very poor by U.S. standards), but certainly are not starving. They are intelligent people, and they've weighed the information they have regarding illegal crossing in an intelligent manner. To say otherwise is to deny them their essential humanity and rationality.
4.11.2006 5:56pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Correct. So far, we are not aware of any terrorist having used the southern border as a means of entry.
Incorrect. We have at least one example that was caught crossing from Mexico:
A South African woman picked up in Texas almost 10 days ago may turn out to be a key, high-level al-Qaida operative.

Her name is Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed. She was stopped at McAllen Miller International Airport on July 19. She was headed to New York.


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Eddie Flores of the U.S. Border Patrol office in McAllen, Texas, tells FederalNewsRadio.com that a review of her papers raised some concerns.

"In looking at her documents, they did not find any entry documents in her passport where she was legally admitted into the United States," says Flores.

Ahmed produced a South African passport to the agents with four pages torn out, and with no U.S. entry stamps. Ahmed reportedly later confessed to investigators that she entered the country illegally by crossing the Rio Grande River. Ahmed was carrying travel itineraries showing a July 8 flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, to London. Six days later, Ahmed traveled from London to Mexico City before attempting to travel from McAllen to New York.
4.11.2006 6:10pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Noble? That's the American stereotype of Mexicans? What utopian America are you living in?
The stereotypes of Mexicans that I have run into, living in Southern California, northern California, and Idaho are

1. Poorly educated.

2. Hard workers.

3. Hard drinkers.

4. Prone to violence.

Like all stereotypes, they are unfair when applied to any particular individual, even if on average they have some truth to them. (Before you argue about stereotype number 4: there's plenty of data to confirm that Hispanics have much higher violent crime rates than white non-Hispanics, although lower rates than blacks.)


I also disagree with your security analysis, CW. If only because the Canadian borders are FAR easier to traverse than the Mexican ones (we used only a tiny fraction of our border resources up north, and the border is significantly larger).
Immigration control has focused too little on Canada because poor Canadians aren't pouring into the U.S. at anywhere near the rate--although there are a lot more illegal Canadian immigrants here than most people would guess. I think that a serious immigration control effort needs to be made on both borders for national security reasons.
4.11.2006 6:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

One would think that a bunch of liberterians would have better faith in the market :)
There is a bit too much faith among libertarians in the market, just as there is too much faith among liberals in the good intentions and effectiveness of government. But to be fair, one of the problems caused by illegal immigration is a bad mixture of free markets in labor, but government provision of social services. This creates a situation where employers of illegals get the benefit of cheap and docile labor, while everyone else gets stuck with the emergency room bills for an illegal with a sick child.
4.11.2006 7:08pm
neutral:

If ditchdiggers cost six-fifty an hour, it might be cheaper to rent a backhoe...


I witnessed how someone haggled with a backhoe company pushing precisely this argument: for this price I can hire 3 mexicans with shovels. Fair enough from market perspective, but is this the way Great American Civilization goes - back to manual labor? How long before we replace cabs with rickshaws?
4.11.2006 7:55pm
Whatever:
What exactly are we concerned about, from a national security perspective? I'm still unclear... I understand the borders are porous, but they always will be... I live about 25 minutes away from the Canadian border, I cross it all the time on foot, in my car, on my bicycle, in a whitewater kayak, sometimes in a canoe with my daughter in it... It would be impossible to protect... Unless we cut down all the trees anyways.... So who hasn't yet learned to live with the fact that there's scary people who are hell-bent on destruction who could get to us if they wanted to? I think I realized that when I was about 19 and first visited countries where acts of terror are a fact of life, I've made peace with that one...

As far as the other problems go, what the hell is the problem with illegal immigrants going to the hospital... If some of my tax dollars go to help stich a dude's finger back on, or deliver a baby safely, so be it... We should have a better system of delivering preventative care so that Jose's cold doesn't end up being an emergency room visit, but the fact is that illegal immegrants are adding far more value to the economy than they are draining from it... Sure everyone can come up with some figures showing how many millions of dollars are spent patching up the uninsured in hospitals, but how many millions of dollars do we gain by having our lettuce picked for seven bucks an hour...

As far as the poor being "injured" by illegal immigrants, how does this work? I hate to tell you, but wages for fruit picking aren't going anywhere... If we kick out the migrant fruit pickers and turn it into a twelve dollar an hour job, we're just gonna import our fruit from some country where they can pay low wages... For what it's worth, I'm pretty poor (not wicked poor, but poor enough to get Medicaid and WIC for the time being), in an area where there is some, but not a lot, of illegal labor, and I think society has treated me just fine... Excellant, in fact... I wake up every day amazed at how great life in America can be, even for those of us who don't have much... Save your sympathy for people who want it (there is NOTHING more offensive than "sympathetic" wealthy people)

Lastly, you go way out on a limb... Do you really think California will secede? That's totally nuts... You live in fear of a Chicano Nationalist movement taking over California... Outta control...
4.11.2006 8:15pm
Cold Warrior:

The stereotypes of Mexicans that I have run into, living in Southern California, northern California, and Idaho are

1. Poorly educated.

2. Hard workers.

3. Hard drinkers.

4. Prone to violence.


I certainly don't want to get into a debate about other people's stereotyped views, but I will note that:

-- I think Clayton Cramer is generally correct, although I think the "prone to violence" is probably more a consequence of where he's lived (California, with its huge Mexican and Central American gang problem -- people tend to lump the two groups together -- and with associated border crime)

-- I think he's missed another positive stereotype or two, namely: "Put great value on family," and "Are religious Catholics." And these two are key elements in the current demonstrations and associated spin. After all, the Catholic Church is at the forefront of the "legalize them" movement.
4.11.2006 8:31pm
therut:
Well I have a nephew who grows chickens and he does a Job Most Amercian Would Not Do. Would he instead work at say Tyson for more money say 40,000 a year. Heck yea. And the work would be much easier. There are probably alot of school teachers who would work at Tyson for 40,000 a year as the job would be much better than taking the crap they do in their job today. And they would be making more. My nephew has not had a vacation in 4 years and he makes less than the 40 Grand and has to pay his own health insurance and his job is not easy nor stress free.
4.11.2006 10:10pm
Challenge:
"As far as the poor being "injured" by illegal immigrants, how does this work? I hate to tell you, but wages for fruit picking aren't going anywhere... If we kick out the migrant fruit pickers and turn it into a twelve dollar an hour job, we're just gonna import our fruit from some country where they can pay low wages."

Do you have any idea what percent of illegal immigrants are "fruit pickers"? Didn't think so. The vast majority of illegals are not picking fruit! They are doing construction, food service, janitorial, lawn care, etc.
4.11.2006 10:44pm
Challenge:
The CIS has a lot of good information, and I skimmed through some of their data to get an idea of what percent of illegals work in agriculture.

According to a CPS survey, around 4% of illegals work in farming, fishing, and forestry. Agriculture isn't even the biggest category, either. The single largest category of illegal employment, according to this survey, was in the "construction and extraction" category, with around with around 22%. The next biggest category was building cleaning and maintenance with 10%, followed by production and food services with around 9% each.

Not only are these jobs that Americans would do, they are jobs that Americans are doing.

For the table I am getting this data from, scroll to "table 10" in here:
4.11.2006 11:00pm
eeyn524:
Cramer: ...We have at least one example that was caught crossing from Mexico:

Wrong. The grand jury here never came up with anything more than illegal entry and associated stuff like lying to officers; the penalty was a fine and deportation; there was no specific Al_Qaeda connection (there was an allegation she was on a watch list, but then anyone can be on a watch list); at least one Border Patrol spokesman is quoted saying he was unaware of of any terrorist connection.

I realize Malkin/Tancredo et al hyped this one, but eventually it blew over. Of course, there's no definitive proof she wasn't a terrorist, but for your statement to be correct it would have to be changed to "at least ZERO examples".
4.12.2006 12:38am
eeyn524:
Correction: she wasn't even on the watch list.

"Eddie Flores, supervisory public affairs officer for the U.S. Border Patrol in McAllen, said a televised news report that claimed Ahmed was being investigated for a U.S. Consulate bombing, was wrong."

"At the time, U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said repeatedly that Ahmed was not charged with terrorism activities.
'We are handling this like any other immigration case,' Shelby told The Monitor last summer. 'And I think there are some media outlets and even some public officials who may very well be embarrassed by the way they have reported on this case once the facts of the case become public.'"
4.12.2006 1:11am