Sunday, September 17, 2006

Immigration, Part Two

Whoa, it's been a while, hasn't it?

Sorry about the delay in updating this blog. But life happens, and I've had other things on my mind lately.

So where was I?

Let's see. I explained why immigration issues are of personal importance to me... I outlined my understanding of the two categories into which these issues can be divided: security and economics... I explained my theory that laws which are generally ignored by those they purport to regulate, are laws that are intended to be ignored, either by the legislators who wrote them (and left their enforcement unfunded) or by society in general... and I partially answered the overriding question -- who really benefits from illegal immigration?

So, who benefits?

As I suggested in my previous post, business benefits, obviously. Low-pay workers provide deflationary pressure on wages in general, which helps business by keeping labor costs down and profits up.

Who else benefits?

Well, politicians benefit, perhaps not so obviously. By writing laws to "control" immigration, politicians are able to place blame for weak national security, and shaky economic conditions for the average worker, on a group that has no political power. By keeping the enforcement of those laws underfunded, the politicians provide a valuable service to their true constituents. the business interests whose campaign funding (directly and indirectly) keeps them in office.

But, ultimately, who else benefits from illegal immigration? What other group has a stake in perpetuating the farce of underfunded laws and social scape-goating?

We do.

Anyone who's ever shopped at a Big Box store... or hired a gardener to mow his lawn... or bought a burger at a fast food restaurant... or eaten fruit picked in California... or had his or her house cleaned by a woman named Rosita... or stayed in a hotel... or hired a contractor to do some small remodeling job... or gotten a newspaper delivered...

Anyone, in other words, who's benefited from plentiful cheap labor. Namely, you and me, amigo.

But wait, you say, those are jobs real honest-to-goodness red-blooded, flag-waving Legal Americans could do!

You're right. But would you? Or would anyone you know?

Nope, not for a federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour -- or even the California minimum wage of $6.75.

Yeah, but, you say, if it weren't for those Illegals, employers would have to pay more money to hire Real Americans, or the jobs wouldn't get done!

In many cases, that might be true. But a lot of those jobs are what I'd call "discretionary" jobs, ie: gardening, housekeeping, minor construction work, etc. Those jobs, if higher wages were demanded, would probably just disappear. If you had to pay triple what you're paying now to have your lawn mowed, you'd probably end up doing it yourself. Ditto with housework. Ditto with repainting your kitchen.

As for the other, non-discretionary jobs -- yep, they'd have to pay higher wages, and those wages would be passed along to you, the consumer. That $3.00 meal at MacDonalds might end up costing you $6.00. That $1.00 banana might cost $3.00. That hotel room, once $200 a night, might go up to $300. And so on and so forth.

So what happens then? Basic economics:

You go out to eat less often, you buy less fruit, you stay home instead of spending a weekend in Palm Springs.

And those businesses start to lose money.

So they hire fewer workers.

And they don't start by cutting the low end of the payroll... they trim the higher paying jobs first, 'cause that's where the savings will be greatest. They cut white collar workers. Skilled workers who get paid more. Maybe they close down a couple of offices or a couple of stores or a less-well-performing hotel.

And the economy shrinks.

And one day, your boss comes to you and says, we have to trim the payroll, friend, and since I'm not about to lose my job or take a smaller profit, I've decided that your job is expendable.

Don't think it'll happen that way?

Just do the math.

According to the most recent estimate, we've got 12 million "illegal" immigrants in this country. For the sake of argument, let's say those 12 million are earning a wage halfway between the Federal and Californian minimum wage. (Most are probably earning more, but more than a few are probably earning less.) At about $6.00 an hour, we're paying those illegals $2,880,000,000 a week. That's almost three billion dollars a week, one hundred fifty billion dollars a year. Now, let's say we remove that entire workforce from the economy and replace it with workers demanding something closer to a "typical" Real American wage of, say, $10 a hour. We replace a workforce that costs $150,000,000,000 a year with one that costs $250,000,000,000 a year.

That's an extra one hundred billion dollars a year out of the economy, most of it from small business owners and average earning households. (I guarantee you there aren't too many Fortune Five Hundred companies employing illegal workers; if they're looking to economize on payroll, they just outsource their white collar jobs to India.)

So, do you still think getting rid of "illegal" immigrants will have a beneficial effect on our national economy?

Sure it will, you say. After all, if we got rid of all those Illegal Immigrants, us Real Americans wouldn't have to pay so much for health care or schooling for our children or any of those other services those Illegals are stealing from our over-generous government. Our schools won't be overcrowded and local governments won't have to close emergency rooms and the sun will shine all day and it'll never rain ever again.

Yeah, right. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on the bill of sale.

More on this, next time, which hopefully will be Real Soon...

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