USA Today - Gone Tomorrow?
July 25, 2001, 05:00 AM
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On July 22, Laura Parker wrote a front-page article in USA Today, (a paper many people have a hard time taking seriously), mouthpiecing the benefits of immigration, legal and illegal.

Entitled "USA Just Wouldn't Work Without Immigrant Labor," its subtext is that the American working man is idle and stupid:

Who will do the hard jobs?

Immigrants—legal and illegal—now make up 13% of the nation's workers, the highest percentage since the 1930s. They dominate job categories at both ends of the economic spectrum. Immigrants hold 35% of the unskilled jobs, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. They also command a significant share of highly skilled technology jobs. At the height of the dot-com boom, as many as a third of the techies working in California's Silicon Valley were from Asia.

Most of the nation's 17.7 million immigrant workers toil, like those who preceded them, in jobs that native-born Americans refuse to do. They work as meatpackers, hotel maids, hamburger flippers, waiters, gardeners, seamstresses, fruit and vegetable pickers, and construction hands.

In fact, native-born Americans can and will do those things - if they're paid decent wages, and given safe working conditions. It's true that the welfare state, (the benefits of which are supposed to be unavailable to foreigners), takes a number of lower-class Americans out of the job market, because as Henry Hazlitt pointed out in Economics In One Lesson, if a man is paid $700.00 a month for not working, he's not going to be interested in a job paying $850.00 a month, because he'd be working 170 hours to get a $150.00 a month increase.

That's an entirely separate problem, but when you consider that in the midst of this immigrant jobs boom, and that there's still a lot of American unemployment, you realise that the problem isn't necessarily the workingman, but the perverse incentives to not work created by the welfare state.

Jobs in poultry plants across the South, once held almost exclusively by American blacks, are now dominated by Mexican immigrants. Textile plants run largely on the labors of Hispanic workers. In the Kentucky coal fields, mining companies are considering recruiting miners from the Ukraine.

The Ukraine. Where labor doesn't organize. Where they're not too worried about work safety.

Plus USA Today is applauding the forcing out of black workers in the poultry plants of the South…!!!

Wow.

The INS did some raids a while back, (Operation SouthPAW), in which they found 4,000 illegal workers in various Southern businesses. Tyson Foods says that they're clean. I presume that means that they have mostly legal Mexicans.

Still, according to Migration News,

In July[1997], the INS apprehended 72 Mexican and 33 Guatemalans at a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Ashland, Alabama. The Ashland police chief reportedly welcomed the raid, because the "town was becoming overrun with illegal aliens." He estimated that 500 of the 2,400 local residents were immigrants. Tyson, with 1,100 employees, is the second largest employer in Clay county, which has a population of 13,600.

Meatpacking plants employing native-born workers have closed all over the country, and new ones opened employing immigrant labor. NumbersUSA's Roy Beck testified before Congress that:

The meat-packing industry offers a vivid example of how losers are created. The industry today is dominated by immigrant workers. The tasks of disassembling America's hogs, sheep and cattle are nasty, tedious and risky. Most news stories I see about these industries state that these are jobs Americans won't do.

But until this recent renewal of mass immigration, those were jobs done almost entirely by native-born Americans. Until immigration levels began rapidly increasing in the late 1970s, they were jobs that Americans not only would do but formed lines to get hired to do.

Workers with few skills and little education could earn up to around $18 an hour in today's dollars. Strong unions guarded the health and safety of the workers.

People held on to their slaughterhouse jobs like gold. And they pulled strings to get their relatives and children into the plant. Because nearly all packing companies offered handsome pay and benefits, no company had trouble remaining profitable while treating its workers well.

But by the 1980s, the pool of foreign workers had grown so large that relatively new companies could use them to undercut the established unionized firms. The new corporations busted unions and slashed wages so that the old giants of the industry - Armour, Swift, Wilson and Cudahy - could not compete while honoring their contracts to provide safe, middle-class jobs to their workers. All four eventually got out of the slaughterhouse business.

Jobs have so deteriorated that it is difficult to keep workers - whether native-born Americans or immigrants. Stress-related disorders and injuries drive many workers off the jobs within months. During the 1990s, annual turnover rates of 50 to 100 percent have been common. Meatcutters now are injured 400 percent more often than workers in the average U.S. industry. In terms of injuries, meatpacking in the 1990s had become the most dangerous industry in America.

Immigrants, above all illegal immigrants, can't defend themselves against abusive employers. Americans can. They can sue, for one thing. It's not that Americans are afraid of hard work, but that they're unwilling to risk losing eyes and fingers for the minimum wage.

The availability of cheap labor is a temptation to inefficiency. A friend of mine reported seeing an interview with a Red Chinese official, who was asked if there was unemployment in China. "Oh, no!" Said the official. "How could there be unemployment? There's so much to be do!"

There was indeed, but in spite of the fact that they had everyone in China working on it, not much actually got done. China's average standard of living is much lower than the US's in part because they have all this cheap labor, and thus don't feel the pressure to mechanise industry.

Americans could do those jobs, if they were offered enough money. John Derbyshire said that

Any economist will tell you that there is no such thing as a labor shortage, only an unwillingness to pay sufficient wages to induce people to work. My own neighborhood here on Long Island is currently infested by illegal immigrants from Mexico who work as laborers for local contractors and landscaping firms. "Nobody else will do the work," moan these employers. Well, there is some level of wages at which plenty of local people would be glad to do it. Heck, for forty bucks an hour, I would do it.

Ms. Parker also bangs the historical drum, saying that:

America's reliance on immigrant labor is as old as the country. European immigrants built, under perilous and often fatal conditions, the Brooklyn Bridge and other New York landmarks. Chinese labor gangs, paid what were pejoratively called "coolie wages," built the railroads that connected the Atlantic with the Pacific.

She's missed the point of that, which is that all this was very bad. Americans could have built the railroads, but they were given no opportunity to do so, as immigrants from pre-industrial China could undercut their wages. The term "coolie" is used for imported contract labor, in which the laborers are not free to leave their employers and seek other work, but must work for the people they've contracted to.

In history we call this by various names such as serfdom, peonage, or forced labor.

In modern times, it's referred to as an H-1B visa. Free labor can't compete.

The countries that use this kind of labor tend to fail. (The former Soviet Union, former Roman Empire, former Imperial China, and the former Confederacy, which entered a war without, as Rhett Butler pointed out, a single cannon factory.)

USA Today has also published a Q & A on legalising  illegal immigration, naming the usual suspects, for and against.

Q: Who favors granting legal status?

A: Mexico, Senate and House Democrats and some Republican senators from states with large populations of Mexican workers. Additionally, certain employers, labor unions, immigrant rights groups, and religious organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church.

Q: Who's opposed?

A: Powerful Republican congressional leaders and groups that generally oppose immigration. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., says amnesty will pass over his "cold, dead body."

One other group should be mentioned as opposing immigration, it's the group that always gets left out of this discussion.

One group that whenever it's polled, says it's in favor of restricting both legal and illegal immigration.

This group, which by Beltway standards is considered a "fringe", comprises up to 70% of the American people.

July 25, 2001