Has increased immigration (illegal and legal) contributed to depressed wages and the increase of the working poor in America?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Blaming illegal immigration for depressed wages and an increase in the poor is at best a spurious argument, and only addresses a tiny portion of the root causes of both problems.

I once ran a landscaping business in Beaumont, Texas. We had to bid for jobs, and labor cost was an important part of the process of assembling a bid. I tried to pay my workers as much as I could afford, but if I didn’t win jobs then I wouldn’t have money to pay to anyone. This sort of pinch put a hard limit on how much I could pay my workers and still be able to afford materials, pay for insurance and make a small profit. I would place ads in the local paper (this was in the pre-internet years) and let the local unemployment office know about my need for workers. I was paying well over minimum wage, but it was hard, physical labor. In the five years I ran the business, I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of men I had hire on who were U.S. natives who lasted more than a week on the job. What was I supposed to do? I refused to hire illegal immigrants, but the labor pool I ended up with was primarily Mexican and South American immigrants. I routinely got outbid by companies I knew hired illegals, and they came to almost dominate the industry.

This situation plays out all over the country. We, the public, are unwilling to pay higher prices for everything from landscaping services to cheeseburgers, which forces business owners to keep prices low, which keeps wages low and increases the number of people who can’t support themselves and their families with their wages. If illegal immigration stopped tomorrow, I have no doubt that wages would eventually rise, but costs would rise along with them.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent– Increased immigration (illegal and legal) has contributed to depressed wages and the increase of the working poor in America. The reasons behind elevated immigration levels are not only due to non enforcement of immigration laws already in existence as well as the actual mass numbers of immigrants that have been coming into America from the 1960s and beyond.

According to numberusa.com, years of record immigration have allowed a breakdown in what was once America’s more limited access to immigrant entries, which was about 250,000 a year. Growth occurred between 1946 and 1970 of about 255,000 and by 1990 and onward, the numbers catapulted to more than 1 million each year. The current numbers are not in line with America’s traditional way of dealing with easing workable figures into a population while maintaining a stable balance of immigrant workers to native workers.

Congress has refused to reduce the number of immigrants allowed to legally work in America, which has taken a catastrophic toll on Americans either unemployed or under employed. Added to the losses are those who are here illegally and working in any number of jobs that Americans could do, along with depressed wages for cheap labor, which employers offer illegals and even outsourced immigrant H-1B Visa holders. Americans have been kept out of the job market because of immigrants taking and holding both higher and lower level jobs and have displaced American workers in a number of job areas that are normally held by American workers.

A huge influx of immigrants creates an oversupply or increase of workers, which means that employers are going to pay wage earners less. With the continual increase in immigrants, legal or otherwise, those employed will continue to receive lower pay because of an employer’s ability to continually use lower skilled individuals due to their sheer numbers and overabundance in the job force, which puts Americans at a disadvantage with both job opportunities and salary negotiation.

For many employers and business owners, the cry for cheap labor and greed for more money in their pockets has surpassed the job needs of their own citizens. Hard working Americans with experience and skills at a number of levels have lost out to immigrants with lesser skills and willingness to work for lower pay, which has created a class of working poor in America. American workers have had to resort to lower level work, part time work, temporary work and miniscule work as well as reliance on food stamps, welfare and other government handouts, which they may or may not be qualified to receive, while immigrants receive government assistance and other tax perks at higher rates than American natives.

Recent developments with the revised version of the RAISE Act sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, and fully endorsed by President Trump have set the wheels in motion for changing the face of immigration and raising standards for America’s working poor.

The RAISE Act would eliminate the immigration of extended family and adult family members, eliminate the visa lottery, limit refugee residency, as well as transform the employment based green card system to one of a merit-based system that would make certain that any new immigrants have the required skills to assume higher level employment.

Many are hoping the RAISE Act will officially come to pass, but Congress must acknowledge that current immigration levels are simply too high and are out of hand, and they must also come to terms with illegal immigration and the terrible losses that have been placed on American workers because of it.

America’s unemployed and underemployed working poor deserve to be given real opportunities to find suitable jobs at decent pay levels. The needs of struggling American families must include an immigration system that puts the needs of Americans first and makes America first, not those of illegal or even legal immigrants. The fate of the American worker is once again in the hands of Congress.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent- On the surface, the answer to this question seems to be an easy “No.” Since emerging from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the U.S. unemployment rate has gradually dropped and stabilized at around 4.5%. This is down dramatically from 10% at the depths of the recession in late 2009. Basic economics teaches us that if the demand for employees increases, businesses will be willing to pay higher wages to obtain the most qualified workers. If current unemployment rates were still at 10%, that would imply workers would be more eager to take any available job, even if the wages were lower than they wanted or needed to earn a decent living.

Since immigrants are still coming to this country to fill jobs that are vacant, and jobs are steadily being created, and unemployment rates aren’t rising, immigration cannot be cited as one of the leading contributors to depressed wages. However, three other factors come to mind that may have more to do with depressed wages: globalization, Americans’ desire to buy cheaper and cheaper goods and services, and increased automation.

Globalization results in poor third-world workers producing goods at much lower costs than American workers would charge. A pittance to us, a wage of one dollar per hour might be considered middle-class comfort to a worker from India, China, or Mexico. Tied to that reality is the fact Americans eagerly buy these inexpensive imported goods because it makes economic sense to anyone living from paycheck to paycheck (a fact of life for a majority of US workers).

Since paying less for things has the effect of increasing one’s purchasing power, it can be argued that wages may seem to have stagnated or fallen, but Americans’ standard of living has either stayed the same or increased since we can buy more things for less money.

Automation has the effect of reducing labor needs because robots take the place of human workers. This indirectly affects wages since robots don’t need to be paid. It also indirectly slows job growth and wage increases since many robots replace highly skilled workers who had well-paying jobs. Even if automation is in the form of an ordering kiosk replacing a fast-food restaurant employee, a human is added to the unemployment line, and one less worker will ask for a raise at their next performance review.

Until immigration has the effect of pushing unemployment rates up to recession-levels, it can’t be blamed for having a major role in depressing wages.

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