The Impact of Immigration on Labor and a Nagging Question

Articles like this Vox piece, “The census shows the US needs to increase immigration—by a lot,” are corporatist propaganda. This is the line peddled by “libertarians” like the Koch brothers (see “The Koch Brothers and the Building of a Grassroots Coalition to Advance Open Borders,” as well as “Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015” and my podcast Freedom and Reason Podcast #5: Bernie Sanders, Immigration, and Progressivism). That progressives fall in line with corporate interests supports my argument that progressivism is the political-ideological and technocratic extension of corporate governance. What is more, it puts the lie to public concerns over the circumstances of black and brown Americans.

For decades, the left rightly promoted family planning in order to not overrun land and resources with people. As confirmed by the 2000 census, this is a nation of at least 331 million people. There are likely tens of millions more here illegally who escaped the attention of the census taker. Vox says we are not full. We are, indeed, full. The United States is the third largest country in the world. Massive numbers of of our species stress public infrastructure, exhaust public services, disorganize communities, and endanger the myriad other animal species who live in North America. This is a quality of life issue. This is an equality of opportunity issue. This is an ecological issue. (See “The Urgency of Population Control and Appreciating the Accomplishments of the Developed World”; “The Good News: Millennials and Fertility”; “PBS and Immigration Apologetics,” particularly apologetic #4

Suppose we did need more people. Why, then, are we told, instead of “Have more babies, America,” let’s open the borders and let in foreigners from Third World countries? Why, if you object to immigration, are you then smeared as “nativist,” “racist,” or “xenophobe” (sometimes all three). Why would the encouragement be in such an aggressive way in the direction of promoting immigration to meet the alleged population need (always ask: Who needs it?) and not in the direction of having more black, brown, and white American babies? But we don’t need more babies. As I will discuss in a moment, we have millions of Americans who need jobs.

There’s a reason why capitalists want more people. They know that falling fertility means fewer workers, now and in the future—and fewer workers translates to rising wages, as labor becomes scarce and therefore more valuable. Supply and demand is a well known dynamic and is particularly consequential for labor markets. The elite promote immigration for, among other things, cheapening labor across the wage system by increasing the supply of labor. They seek to expand the supply of cheap labor to drive down wages for low-skilled labor-intensive and high-skilled capital-intensive workers.

Keeping the focus on labor markets, then, the motivation to promote open borders is twofold: (1) foreign labor is cheap and drives down the wages of native workers through competition; (2) immigration drives down wages for all workers by expanding labor supply. Today, the official number of unemployed Americas exceeds ten million, and that is certainly a severe undercount. Why import labor when millions of Americans need work?

The response that, while there is a surplus of unskilled domestic labor, skilled foreign labor is needed because of domestic shortages for capitalist-intensive sectors, is not a serious argument for an obvious reason: low skilled labor is not discouraged to migrate to the United States, but aggressively courted by a range of organizations, public and private. The message has been: “You’re welcome in Biden’s America!” There’s another reason. Why are investments in raising the skill level of native workers so impoverished if there’s a known domestic shortage of skilled labor? I have heard this argument for years, so it’s not like the powers-that-be didn’t know. Powerful forces can work to import skilled labor but not to raise the skills of domestic workers?

To return to the question of population, over which the Vox piece frets, what is especially disturbing about the advocacy of family planning at home is the fact that its most aggressive when it comes to poor and disproportionately native black and brown demographics. Whereas, since the late 1970s, white fertility has stabilized (and even increased—and is projected to grow in the coming decades), nonwhite fertility has declined rather drastically. This is why the accusation of racism behind the concern expressed by the replacement thesis misses the mark (it’s propaganda)—to wit, those being replaced are black and brown workers. (See “The ‘Great Replacement’ as Antiracist Propaganda.”)

Have the readers of the blog noticed that all the jobs blacks used to do foreigners now do? I don’t mean blacks have been replaced by brown native workers. These are brown foreigners. Before mass immigration, the unemployment rates for whites and blacks, while still apart, wasn’t nearly as apart as they would become after the borders were opened in the mid 1960s.

It didn’t take long to devastate the opportunities for black workers. By 1980, black unemployment exceeded 20 percent of that demographic. To be sure, that was in a recession period, but it wasn’t much better during periods of economic expansion. This period coincides with unprecedented levels of criminal violence and the concomitant expansion of policing and mass incarceration, as well as the fracturing of the black family (see The FAR Podcast: Explaining the Overrepresentation of Blacks in Crime).

When Trump restricted immigration, wages rose faster and unemployment fell more rapidly for blacks than any time since we’ve been keeping records. Why? Again, supply and demand (see “The Rate Of Exploitation Under Trump”). And the result was criminal justice reform across the United States. All this has been reversed in short order. Who led the way? Ponder that question.

And ponder this nagging and related question: Why are progressives, given the intensity of their “black lives matter” enthusiasm, and in the face of the black economic disparities and social strife, so aggressive in pushing open borders? For me, immigration has nothing to do with race. Immigration is a question for labor. But for progressives, immigration seems to have everything do with race. Perhaps we should start asking why.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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