Communities like Ferguson, Missouri should have been on the mind of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson when he testified about the president’s latest executive amnesty at a congressional hearing Tuesday.
Ferguson has inadvertently drawn the national media spotlight as an epitome of communities across America that are besieged by the effects of constantly loose labor markets where there are far more workers than jobs.
Of course, it was a police shooting that sparked the months of civil unrest and a national debate about law enforcement relations with African American communities. But most media also reported on an important side story of intense economic frustration of Ferguson residents about declining real wages and employment rates. They quoted residents and experts saying the effects of the loose labor market helped fuel the rage on the streets.
President Obama’s announcement of immigration policy changes just before the Missouri grand jury report has raised many questions about whether opening up most U.S. jobs to millions of illegal aliens would be harmful to communities which already have an over-supply of workers.
Quizzed about it Tuesday, Mr. Johnson brushed aside any connection, delivering the administration’s standard claim that the federal government can continue to add millions of foreign workers into a loose labor market without any particular consequences to struggling American workers. Jobs for Americans are “a separate issue” from work permits for illegal aliens, he said.
Let’s go back to Ferguson for a closer look of what it is like to live in the midst of a loose labor market.
The Brookings Institution noted a long decline in the percentage of Ferguson residents working, and the one-third drop in real income among those who do have jobs: “Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed,” Brookings’ Elizabeth Kneebone wrote. “Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line.”
People who live in such concentrations of poverty can be excused for thinking that the nation’s economy has no need for them. And it isn’t surprising that many feel they have been abandoned by their government and fellow citizens.
Brookings found that Ferguson is not unusual. Examining suburban neighborhoods in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, it found that in the first dozen years of this century there was a doubling of communities in which more than 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
“By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher,” Kneebone found. “For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.”
Federal data gathered by the Center for Immigration Studies show that since the year 2000 the employment rate of white working-age Americans has fallen from 75.7 percent to 69.6 percent, and from 68.2 percent to 60.5 percent for Hispanics. For black Americans, the decline has been from 66.1 percent to 56.9 percent.
Nearly half of working-age black Americans no longer have jobs. It is no wonder that so many feel that their government has stacked the deck against them.
Many politicians look at these individual communities and suggest that the jobless in them are not directly competing with the more than 10 million foreign citizens given work permits each decade.
But if the government were to stop supplying so much foreign labor, would America’s corporations change their recruiting patterns and look for workers in the thousands of communities like Ferguson? Might they even make different decisions about where to locate facilities near where large surpluses of jobless Americans live?
When I met with Mr. Johnson last spring, I discussed with him the government data showing that millions of jobless Americans are of similar education levels as the illegal aliens. Thus, I pointed out, they are looking for full-time work in the very occupations where the amnestied illegal aliens are most likely to apply once nearly all U.S. jobs are opened up to them.
These do not look like separate issues.
For months, we have all been subjected to depressing images and sounds about the economic hopelessness of many in Ferguson. Those images and sounds can be found all across the country. It is difficult to imagine much economic hope in those communities without tighter labor markets, the opposite of the president’s desires for millions more immigrant work permits.
Roy Beck is the Executive Director of NumbersUSA.