I always understood that left wing politics stood for two basic things. First and foremost, the left stood up for the economic welfare of the working man and for the ability of workers to harvest a proper return for their contribution to the value of production rather than allowing capital to draw a disproportionate return (whether based on notions of egalitarianism or on the Henry Ford principle that the economy prospers most for all classes when the workers can afford to buy the goods they make). Second, the left stood for equal rights and opportunities and against inherited advantage, again either as a matter of principle or for the functional reason that this allows the most efficient use of human talent, contributing to the prosperity of all. On both of these measures, the immigration policies pushed by the Democratic party are more consistent with right-wing views than with the left wing.
I will show this with statistics and history, but first let me start with a story from another country. Any American who visited Norway in the early 1990s would have been struck by the fact that the hotel maids were blond native Norwegians who seemed to be perfectly content with their jobs. Then Norway became a destination for refugees and it entered into immigration agreements with the EU. Soon the maids shifted to being foreign-born. The hotels could now hire lower-cost labor and be less concerned with working conditions, and so the jobs that the locals had been content with degenerated into jobs that Norwegians didn’t want to do. The natives didn’t become more prosperous; the jobs became worse.
In the immigration debate, the Democratic leadership defends free immigration and non-enforcement of the law in large part by saying that immigrants do the jobs that no American wants to do. Would Americans not want to do those jobs if they had good pay and working conditions? Isn’t the leadership really saying, “We have allowed jobs for relatively uneducated workers to become substandard, but rather than doing anything about that we’ll just bring in immigrants to do them, because who cares about immigrants?”
Let’s review a little American history. Back in the 1800s and the first part of the 20th century, American unskilled workers had no market power. While even the worst southern slave owner would at least regret his economic loss if a slave died, if a northern worker died in a workplace accident or from poverty-related disease, his industrialist boss could just hire another poor immigrant without a second thought. This led to deplorable conditions in the northern slums. Now fast-forward a little Remember the Okies who, like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, had become migrant farm workers? During the 1930s, in response to the plight of the Okies who very much wanted those jobs, illegal immigrants were sent home, finally allowing farm labor to start making a reasonable living. During World War II the U.S. government had encouraged foreign bracero workers to enter and replace workers who had been soaked up by the war effort, but following the war U.S. labor and civil rights leaders began attacking that program because it was depressing wages for the American workers who wanted what had become acceptable jobs. They finally succeeded in shutting down the bracero program in 1964, and an era of relatively good times followed for farm workers. Ceasar Chavez won a 40% increase in wages for grape pickers in 1967, and farm workers (including many Hispanic Americans) began to have hope. Industry responded by opening up the immigration spigot again, and the United Farm Workers union was crushed, with workers under UFW contract declining 90% over the decade from the early 70s to the early 80s. Since then, the significance of farm work to the immigrant labor force has declined dramatically, with some 85% of immigrants now moving to urban centers and finding employment in construction and services.
The basic law of supply and demand dictates that if the supply of unskilled labor increases without control, wages for work suitable to that pool will fall. For the manufacturing industry, this effect has been seen as globalization enabled companies to replace American manufacturing labor with much cheaper employees elsewhere. New factories were located abroad in low-wage locations, and as this trend took hold it became very difficult for companies to resist it even if they wanted to. Firms that kept using high-cost labor for low-skilled jobs either could not compete against foreign rivals (think TV manufacturing) or were acquired by companies that felt no qualms about relocating.
Now envision Montgomery Burns in a back room somewhere conspiring against working people. “Excellent, we have crushed the market power of the factory workers. However, there are many jobs in construction and services that we cannot move to other countries. What can we do to keep those workers from making annoying demands for bigger paychecks? We need to bring enough cheap foreign workers here to break their market power, too.” That, of course, is exactly what happened over the same period that middle class manufacturing employees were being crushed.
Can I prove that? Yes. Immigrants have a different education profile than U.S. natives. 32.5% of foreign-born workers in the U.S. labor pool have less than a high school education, versus 11.7% of U.S.-born workers. Slightly fewer immigrant workers have just a high school education than U.S. natives, but a relatively high proportion of the children of immigrants tend to have just high school degrees, so call that one about even. Immigrants have the same proportion of college degrees as natives. However, only 18.5% of immigrants fall in the some college/associates degree range, versus 31% of natives. So, if there is an immigration effect on pay, you would expect to see the wages of workers with less than a high school degree depressed relative to those with some college or an associates degree. You would expect to see wages at other income levels depressed a little, but a maximum effect at this level.
It is easy to run this experiment now because immigrants have deeply penetrated all 50 states , rather than being mainly confined to a few gateway states, but they are present in varying states at varying levels. Further, because different immigrant subgroups have different education profiles, you can refine the analysis by looking at the sub-component that is most skewed towards less than a high school education. The 50 states give you 50 data points. If you compare the ratio of immigrants in the low-education group to the total workforce against the differential between the pay of workers with some college/associates degrees and that of those with less than a high school education, you get a correlation coefficient of .706 and an R Squared of .50. This means that 50% of the variation from state to state in the advantage of having some college versus having less than a high school degree is accounted for by the level of immigrants in the low-education group in that state’s workforce. I checked some obvious possible alternative explanations, such as whether immigrants are attracted to low-wage states and that the education/wage difference in those states might be higher, but the data do not support any such alternative theories. The data show that a relatively uncontrolled supply of unskilled labor depresses the market value of unskilled workers, which should not be a huge surprise.
If the Democratic party cares about American workers, about black Americans (19% of whom have less than a high school degree) or about Hispanic Americans, then it should seek to impose real controls on the employment of immigrant labor in order to balance supply and demand at a better level.
Would that leave U.S. employers without people to do “the jobs that Americans don’t want to do”? Yes, so those employers would need to raise wages and improve working conditions to make the jobs acceptable. That would result in somewhat fewer, but better, jobs. With the growth in Americans’ preference for locally-grown food, American growers could handle the strain. The construction industry and service industries could certainly adapt. Only Monty Burns would lose.
Wealthy businesspeople own news media. They also make heavy campaign contributions to candidates from both political parties. We the people should not allow the wealthy to use these channels to fool us into thinking that what is pushed as a Democratic/left-wing position is really a position consistent with left-wing values.