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Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigration Protests and Unemployment in Perspective

Well May 1st has come and gone and all the hype and hysteria inspired me to do some research. If you listened to Phil Valentine (those of you around Nashville) you might think that your job is going to be done by an illegal immigrant at half pay some time next week. If you watch NBC news you'd think this was a spontaneous civil rights campaign. Neither is correct.

The Center for Immigration Studies, and independent, non-partisan think tank that studies immigration issues published findings in 2005 that estimated the number of immigrants in America to be 35.2 million. An estimated 7.9 million of these arrived between 2000 and 2005 and about 3.7 million of them were illegal/undocumented. So, talk radio jocks might say, this is the smoking-gun-proof that we must build our own Berlin Wall in Texas to keep the Latinos out before we all lose our jobs, right?

Well, not exactly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor tracks unemployment by month, quarter, year, age, race, occupation, and just about any other data cut you can imagine. Total unemployment by year since 2000 looks like this:

2000 4.0%
2001 4.7%
2002 5.8% (the beginning economic impact of 911 terrorist attacks)
2003 6.0%
2004 5.5%
2005 5.1%
2006 4.7% (annualized data for the quarter ending March '06)

So combining these two data sets we see that the growth in the U.S. economy has absorbed the "911" job losses and 7.9 million immigrants, including the 3.7 million illegals, with no appreciable impact on unemployment. It looks like your job might be safe after all.

Now what about this spontaneous civil rights movement? Don't buy it! Check out http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-organizers3may03,1,7009105.story to see the role that organized labor played in the May 1st demonstrations. Organized labor has for years shot itself in the foot by not targeting immigrants as potential members, treating them instead as cheap labor and a threat to "good union jobs". This was a major factor behind the recent breakaway of former AFL-CIO member unions like the Service Employees International Union which views immigrants, even illegal immigrants, as a rich source of new members. They are the most disenfranchised and vulnerable segment of the workforce and thus a natural to need organized labor's protection. Now that labor has awakened to this fact it hopes that becoming the advocate for guest worker amnesty and other immigrant rights initiatives ingratiates this demographic group to labor much the way that 1960's Democrats' embracing of the civil rights movement brought African Americans into their party for a generation. The May 1st demonstrations would not have happend without Big Labor organizing expertise and money.

So what's the takeaway here for the average working person? Not much, really and that's the point of this post. You're not going to lose your job to a cheaper foreign worker anytime in the forseeable future if at all. The only thing of significance that happened this week on this issue was how much TV news and talk radio ad time was sold telling you that something important was happening.

1 comment:

Michael Hyatt said...

This is a great corrective to the hype. Thanks for sharing it!