Think the economy is in bad shape? Convinced the job picture is bleak? Afraid tomorrow will only be darker than today?
If this sounds familiar, chances are you’re not an immigrant.
In good times and bad, the foreign-born tend to remain optimistic and hopeful. And it’s easy to see why.
Immigrants are usually among the most highly employed workers in the United States. Whenever immigrants and the native-born go up against each other for jobs—particularly those who are usually considered low-skilled jobs—it’s the foreigners who usually wind up on top. That certainly seems to have been the case in the sluggish economy of the past four years.
So says a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that pushes immigration restrictions. The center describes itself as “pro-immigrant”—yet claims to be motivated by a “low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.”
A warmer welcome—for immigrants? Who are these folks kidding? In the nearly 230-year history of the United States, no group of immigrants has been warmly welcomed.
Immigration is a complicated subject with no black-and-white answers. But you’d never know it from listening to organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies. Most of its research is intended to convince Americans that immigrants are a burden and a bad deal for society.
Not just illegal immigrants, either. Given its support for a moratorium on all legal immigration, it doesn’t seem the group is any more welcoming of legal immigrants than it is of the illegal variety.
With its latest report, based on Census data and timed to coincide with the presidential election, the center is pushing a familiar argument: immigrants take American jobs.
According to the study, from March 2000 to March 2004, immigrants filled nearly 2.3 million new jobs while native-born Americans lost nearly 500,000 jobs.
The displacement is even more noticeable when you look at specific regions of the country. For instance, in the heavily affected area of Southern California, of the nearly 400,000 people to enter the work force, native-born workers accounted for just 18 percent while immigrants made up a whopping 82 percent. As a rule, the greater the presence of immigrants in a given state, the steeper the decline in the employment of the native-born.
In the last year, of the 900,000 new jobs created nationwide between March 2003 and March 2004, two-thirds went to immigrant workers even though they make up only 15 percent of all adult workers.
And just look at who American workers are losing out to. More than a million of the immigrants who ended up with jobs had no more than a high school education.
Think about that. Here you have Americans—with all their educational opportunities, cumulative wealth and countless other advantages—and they’re being outdone, according to this study, by unskilled and uneducated immigrants, who are often from Third World countries and who, in many cases, can’t even speak English.
That being the case, Americans shouldn’t be raising their fists. They should be hanging their heads. I mean, how humiliating. No wonder so many Americans like to cling to the old saw about how the only reason that natives lose jobs to foreigners is that the competition is willing to work for lower wages.
Certainly, that has to be part of it. As workers go, immigrants are often a bargain for employers. Whether documented or not, they will take whatever they’re given, without complaining or asking for more.
But I suspect that this goes beyond what fits neatly on a pay stub. Many native-born Americans find themselves coping with a vanishing work ethic. It’s not just that there’s a whole host of jobs that current generations of Americans consider so undesirable as to be utterly beneath them—from picking grapes to tarring roofs to slaughtering cattle. It’s also that many native-born Americans seem eager to redefine the nature of work as it relates to their lives.
Speaking for myself, I’ve accepted that a person has to work to live, but that’s still a far cry from what my immigrant grandfather believed: that a person lived to work. Thinking back, it’s no wonder that he never lacked for a job.
That’s what many native-born Americans are up against. So they had better brace themselves for the competition.