View From Lodi, CA: Labor Day—As the Rich Get Richer….
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Labor Day is an appropriate time to continue last week's analysis of the impact of non-immigrant visas like the H-1B and L1 on the U.S. worker and his wages.

Readers will recall that in my column "Look Out Teachers, the H-1B Visa Gang Wants Your Job" I wrote that the Clark County School District in Nevada had just recruited 51 Filipino schoolteachers to work on H-1B visas.

The question I posed was whether the district had considered all its domestic options before traveling half way around the world to hire people who have never set foot in a U.S. classroom

I felt certain that, with the slightest effort, school district administrators could have come up with a host of eager American candidates with impressive resumes. Laid off tech workers is but one example of immediately available potential teachers.

Lo and behold it has since come to light that Teresa Porter, who holds a master's degree in English Literature and has taught for 14 years in California and Japan, applied to teach in Clark County but was rejected. ["Experienced Teachers Spurned Despite Shortage," Antonio Planas, Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 25]

Even though Porter was once "Teacher of the Year" at her Stockton, CA. high school and is an English as a Second Language specialist, an area of high need according to Clark County officials, she was turned down.

Porter—get this—was spurned because she did not do her student teaching in Nevada.

As the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in its editorial "Teacher Shortage a Bureaucratic Fraud", noted: 

"This is like having Bill Gates or Steve Jobs show up offering to teach a course in entrepreneurship at the local business college, and telling them, 'Sorry, you never did complete all your required semesters of gym class in high school, did you?'"

The irony is that the Filipino teachers didn't do their student teaching in Nevada either. Nevertheless, the Clark County School District was clever enough to find away around that roadblock for the Filipinos.

But it was unwilling to do the same for Porter.

The net result is that 51 teaching jobs are gone. Americans will not be able to compete for those positions. In fact, they may not even want to since the Filipino teachers are paid less. And the same job for future prospective teachers is now locked in at a lower rate of pay.

Clark County, by the way, pays its beginning teachers about $27,000.

This Las Vegas scenario plays out over and over again across America in virtually every labor market…teachers, nurses, doctors, software managers.

Employers scream "shortage" and Congress rushes to increase visa caps. In 2005, it has already increased the H-1B visa cap by 20,000, at least doubled the H-2B "temporary worker" visas, and added an additional 10,000 E-3 work based green card visas for Australians.

Don't look at those as merely raw numbers. They are lost job opportunities for Americans.

The pattern sustains itself because an endless flow of workers comes to the US—some legally and some not legally. But regardless of the worker's immigration status, they can be hired for less money.

In 2004, Boston's Northeastern University Center for Labor Studies released a report by Professor Andrew Sum titled "Foreign Immigration and the U.S. Labor Market".

The report found that between 2000 and January and April 2004, foreign immigrants arriving since 2000 accounted for at least 60 percent of all the labor force growth in the nation. The number of new immigrant workers rose by at least 2.1 million during that period while the number of native-born workers and established immigrants declined by 1.3 million.

The majority of the new workers are young, poor and uneducated Mexican migrants, Sum discovered.

Said Sum:

"The share of national labor force growth accounted for by new immigrants is historically unprecedented."

With cheap labor dominating, U.S. wages have been stagnant for over two decades.

And not only are wages flat but they have lagged significantly behind productivity.

Put another way, workers do not share in corporate profits.

Finally, the $5.15 federal minimum wage that has not been increased since 1997 keeps the most at risk element of the work force poor. Since raises are often tied to the minimum wage, the low starting point makes it nearly impossible to earn a living income.

At the same time, according to the New York Times, the average 2002 salary for a Chief Executive Officer—the very guys who holler "shortage"— is $10.8 million. Their pay increases average 6%, more than twice that of workers' paychecks.

The little guy keeps getting trampled on.

In 2004, the poverty rate in America rose to 12.7% of the total U.S. population or 37.0 million, an increase of 1.1 million people, according to an August 29 Census Bureau press release.

The poverty rate rose for one group—non-Hispanic whites. Other ethnicities—Hispanic, Asian and black— remained unchanged but still were within poverty guidelines.

Cheap labor has created lucrative times in executive suites. But it has made life tough for low-skilled workers of all backgrounds as they struggle to make ends meet.

Once upon a time, the prevailing philosophy across American when hiring was, "Find the best people available and pay them fairly."

But now, with so much cheap labor available, the tune has changed to "Why pay more when we can always pay less?"

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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