Sunday, June 17, 2012

How Could this Possibly Raise Competition for Jobs

The Washington Post ran a story Friday speculating that Obama's amnesty to illegal immigrants would lead to an increase in competition for jobs and college. Two things with regard to this, first of all this is an instance of linear thinking. Increasing the potential supply of workers and college entrants should impact a number of other economic and social variables, there is no good reason to believe this will increase pressure on existing job seekers or prospective students (it may, but without further evidence there is no reason that the intuitive response is correct, the impact is indeterminate).

I'll illustrate my second issue with a quote from the article:

But Steven Camarota, a researcher with the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said that the Obama administration was not taking into account the new measure’s probable impact on competition for jobs at the low end of the economic scale, where chronic unemployment is highest. Among Americans with less than a high school education, he said, the jobless rate is 13 percent.
“It doesn’t seem the administration is considering the cascading consequences,” Camarota said. “What does this mean for unemployed Americans who will be competing for jobs with a million-plus people who can now apply for work authorization? Is this really a good idea?”

This strikes me as wrong-headed. Currently, illegal immigrants lack virtually all bargaining power with regards to jobs, wages, and working conditions. They are also severely limited in their ability to incorporate and to employ others. One of the primary sources of downward pressure on wages and opportunities is a large number of individuals who are available to be hired who are in no position to ask for benefits, who cannot legally pay taxes, and who cannot appeal poor working conditions and abuse for fear of deportation. This makes these individuals very appealing as hires to less scrupulous employers in the low wage sector.

This reform removes much of what distinguishes illegal immigrants from other potential employees. Far from making them more competitive, this reform makes them largely indistinguishable from other workers. What advantage does an employer get from hiring an illegal over a native? The former illegal now has the opportunity to report labor violations, can now work legally and pay taxes so has less incentive to take under the table employment, and can now demand work place benefits. It's plausible that they may even have an increased demand for employer benefits relative to native workers since they don't qualify for Federal benefits; private disability, pension, and health benefits are that much more important to workers who lack even our threadbare social safety net. I fail to see how greater similarities between immigrant and native workers increases competition relative to the status quo. What mechanism would cause more similar workers with more protections to distort the market more than disadvantaged workers with less protections?

This strikes me as one of those irrational, intuitive responses that I referred to in my last couple of posts. Once the argument is thought through the holes in it are rather obvious.

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