The U.S. economy may have been built with the sweat of immigrants but those who would like to slow or eliminate the flood of foreigners settling in the United States say there’s no way the economy can support current levels of immigration.
David Gorak, executive director, Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, said the United States should cut back the number of immigrants to the historic level of 300,000 or less. Otherwise, he warns the U.S. standard of living could sink to Third World levels.
“Only when the labor supply becomes tight do workers have the upper hand in negotiating,” he said.
Gorak contends Americans are being laid off from well-paying jobs because they are earning too much money and that they’re being replaced with lower-paid, foreign workers. He points to the meatpacking industry as a case in point.
“These jobs used to be held by American citizens who were paid middle-class wages,” he said. “During a round of union busting in the 1980s, these people lost their jobs. The same thing goes for drywall installers in California and janitorial services. It’s nonsense Americans don’t want to do these dirty and dangerous jobs.
“How did we get along before all this influx of immigrant labor? How did we manage to afford all of this?”
But Professor Joel Goldhar of the Stuart Graduate School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology said demographics makes immigration necessary to the U.S. economy.
“If you have an aging population, which is going to require more services, and you have a low birth rate, you’ve got to have people in there who will work for reasonable wages — $8 to $10 an hour, not $70 or $80,” he said. “It is unlikely you could support a service economy without people willing to take first-step jobs. The American dream is to have your kids do better than you. You’ve got to start some place.”
Goldhar said calls to eliminate immigration make no sense.
“It’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” he said. “We need better control. We need to stop the sneaking across the border where people die doing it. There are lots of moral grounds to clean up that activity.
“In a country that needs workers and population growth, that has an expanding economy and low birth rate, you need immigration at the low end, you need immigration at the high end, you need people to do those jobs none of us want our kids to do. The reason immigrants are willing to do that is they have opportunity.”
Hogwash, Gorak counters.
“The whole issue of our economy depending on immigrant labor is a boldfaced lie,” he said. “Cheap and exploitable labor is primarily to hold down labor costs. What these apologists do not recognize is it’s causing a great deal of economic hardship … because wages are depressed. If inflation is taken into account, many of these low-paying jobs … really there is no difference between where they are now and where they were in 1970.
“Immigrant labor is less than 0.1 percent of our economy, so if that disappeared overnight would our economy collapse? Of course not,” Gorak said.
Goldhar said he doesn’t think the economy would collapse without immigration “but the price we pay for labor at the low end would go up and costs of goods and services would go up.”
What attracts immigrants to the United States is the openness of both the economy and society.
“If you’re in a country with a stagnant economy and highly rigid social strata, you can’t get any better. Even if you get richer, you can’t get into society,” Goldhar said.
“What makes the United States such a vibrant country is its open society and open economy. We’re losing entry-level jobs because of automation or offshore manufacturing. But the service industry still has them.
“Immigrants are not just coming to the United State to take a low-paying job. What they’re really getting is a salary and a lottery ticket. … You have lots of stories of people who started out washing dishes and ended up owning restaurants. We had a cleaning lady who now runs a cleaning lady service.”
And that’s the problem, Gorak said.
“We’ve got to find ways to make this country less attractive.”
Assistant Professor Mark Bauer of the Chicago Kent College of Law said in many ways our economy is dependent on illegal immigrants.
“On the one hand, as the world gets smaller, we just can’t stop it. As we grow richer and older, we can’t live without it. At the same time, we cannot afford open borders and still provide a social safety net for our citizens.”
An October report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, concluded it would be a good idea to legalize the status of illegal Mexican immigrants because “the demand for low-skilled labor continues to grow in the United States while the domestic supply of suitable workers inexorably declines.” A report by Notre Dame Professor Jorge Bustamente published in July found the reduction of immigration to the United States as a result of the terrorist attacks has meant many service, manufacturing and agricultural industries cannot find enough workers.
Gorak is incensed by those conclusions.
“Mexican workers here sent home $10 billion last year. (Mexico) uses us as a safety valve for their poor. We have got to shut off the magnets — the jobs, education, healthcare. We have got to start coming down hard on companies in violation for hiring these people.
“We can’t talk about homeland security and have a wishy-washy approach to immigration.”