Why the GOP Should Not Blame Immigrants for High Unemployment
Bob Pollin: Republican-controlled House is split over immigration reform but those against reform should think twice before blaming immigrants for economic slump
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Pollin Report.
Bob Pollin is the codirector and founder of the PERI institute in Amherst, Massachusetts. He’s also a regular contributor to The Real News.
Thanks for joining us, Bob.
ROBERT POLLIN, CODIRECTOR, POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Very glad to be on. Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Bob, as you know, immigration reform is being highly debated here in the United States. We have the Senate that just recently approved a immigration reform bill. And now the House hasn’t really set any concrete dates, but there is a lot of outside pressure for them to decide on whether or not to take a vote on immigration reform.
You wrote a piece a couple of years ago about immigrants in the United States called “Can we please stop blaming immigrants?” Let’s talk about the economics of immigration in the United States, because you get a lot of people saying that it’s a simple supply-and-demand game. If there is a set supply and there are many workers who want these set jobs, that will therefore lower wages and increase unemployment. What do you say to people who have such logic?
POLLIN: Well, you know, the logic works part of the way, and in some situations the logic holds true to explaining problems in the labor market, problems of unemployment, problems with low wages. But there’s other factors, and it’s very important to recognize these other factors.
The other factor, the overriding other factor is that immigrants are not just people that take jobs; they’re also people that live in communities, that participate in communities, that buy things, and that invest in businesses themselves. And by making those contributions to the communities in which they live, they also are adding to the number of jobs in the community. They’re adding to the demand for goods and services in the community. And so the result is actually that when we study this in the places where you have the high concentrations of immigrant workers, you really don’t see any effect in terms of places that have a lot of immigrants having worse job situations for, say, native U.S. people versus places that don’t have a lot of immigrants.
So let me just give you some data on that. If you study, for example, as I’ve done with Jeanette Wicks-Lim, following work by Professor David Card at UC Berkeley, if you study–let’s compare two cities, Miami and L.A., where 35 to 40 percent of the people in the low-wage job market are immigrants, okay, versus Atlanta and Philadelphia, where you have a much lower percentage of immigrants in the job market. What is the effect of having a lot of immigrants on the job market in L.A. and Miami versus not having so many in Atlanta and Philadelphia? Well, it turns out the effect is nothing. Job opportunities and wages for native U.S. workers in Miami and L.A. are pretty much the same as they are in Philadelphia and Atlanta. And you can say, well, how could that possibly be? Because what we hear is that immigrants just come in and take the jobs, especially low-wage jobs, service sector jobs, restaurants, hotels, cleaning services, cab drivers, bus drivers. Okay. We’re saying that immigrants are taking all those jobs, so how could it be that we don’t see any effect on, say, unemployment or wages? And the reason is that the immigrants in Miami, in L.A. are of course also living in communities, buying things. Actually, money is coming in from the countries in which they’re natives, in which they’re investing and creating their own businesses. So we don’t see the effect that people claim is a major cause of unemployment and low wages in this country.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. So for you what is the real cause? Why is that root issue? Why do we see such low wages?
POLLIN: Right. I’m glad you ask that, because we still obviously have this problem of mass unemployment. We still have the problem of low wages. We have the problem that we can’t get out of the recession. That’s why I called the article “Please stop blaming immigrants”, because it’s not the fault of immigrants. It’s the fault of our macroeconomic policies that aren’t focused on job creation, that aren’t focused on stabilizing the labor force, the financial markets. And they aren’t focused on helping people get decent wages.
So, for example, if we have a decent minimum wage, which is another policy area that is being debated now, a higher minimum wage that would be the law that would apply to people in all the cities, whether there’s immigrants or not, we wouldn’t have to worry about that downward pressure from immigrants being strong at all, because we would have a higher minimum wage. The problem is not the immigrants; the problem is the low minimum wage. If we had policies that were pushing for full employment instead of settling, as we seem to be now, that 7.6 percent unemployment is the best we can do, if we push for full employment, then whatever competition there would be between, say, immigrant workers and native workers, that competition would be diminished because the economy [incompr.] focused on full employment.
All that said, the problem is not immigrants. The problem is a lack of full-employment policies, lack of decent minimum wages, unions not being strong enough to push up for good wages.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Thanks so much for joining us, Bob.
POLLIN: Thank you very much for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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