Sunday, April 09, 2006

Too Good To Sweat

It's a bit belated perhaps, but I haven't posted about the immigration issue so here's my short and admittedly simplistic take. In the past, I've the following jobs: waiter/busboy, mover, and assembly line worker in a food processing plant. In each job, I worked with illegals and/or naturalized citizens. When I hear that "immigrants do the jobs Americans won't do" I find it offensive and outrageous. For years, every prospective white-collar employer with whom I interviewed was more interested in talking about the food processing plant job than anything else on my resume---and with good reason. The "undesirable" jobs I had taught me the meaning of discipline and hard work at an important age, and those potential employers knew it. Given the choice between a job applicant who's busted his hump and one who's wandered the mall with a cell phone, i-pod, and Daddy's credit cards in his pocket because he's too good to sweat, I'll take the former every time. Unfortunately, we've created legions of the latter during the past few years.

In Saudi Arabia, millions of people refuse to work because they consider themselves too good for the jobs that are available. And so for their country to function every day, Saudis depend on foreigners who now make up 25% of the entire population. Here, under the guise of "compassion," some would instill the same sense of entitlement and sacrifice our nation's work ethic to the God of corporate profits. I'm not sure which system is worse, but a generation from now the results will probably be the same.

45 Comments:

Anonymous Jones said...

For my money, everything that needs to be said about imigration is stated in this article by Thom Hartmann:

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0329-21.htm

Completely turned my head around on the issue.

4/09/2006 3:48 AM  
Anonymous Antonie said...

None of the proposed legislation will work as long as the standard of living is lower in Mexico and other Latin American countries than in the U.S.

We should work with Latin American governments to have them improve their infrastructure so that their countrysides can develop. That is the real solution.

Giving amnesty to workers who are here already will not stem the tide of illegal immigrants. If anything, they'll try even harder to come here and hope for another future amnesty. We would need a border like the Berlin Wall, with minefields and barbed wire, all across the U.S./Mexican, increased coast patrols, and better enforcement between Canada and the U.S. as well, to keep illegal immigrants out. The proposed legislation is not very serious about keeping illegal immigrants out. It is meant to keep labor cost down, as explained in Jones' linked article above. It's pure economics.

On the other hand, I don't feel that illegal immigrants who are already in our country should be penalized for having come in when the government very willingly let them in by doing nothing. That should be our problem, not the immigrants'.

4/09/2006 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the fear of most Americans can be summed up in one sentence.

Today's immigrants are the pilgrims and we are the natives.

KPA

4/09/2006 10:34 AM  
Anonymous nil said...

Molly Ivins had a column worth reading on the issue:

http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/news/columnists/molly_ivins/14240420.htm
or let me try a direct tag here...

Yay!

4/09/2006 11:32 AM  
Blogger texasdiver said...

Don't mistake jobs one might do on a temporary basis during college or youth with career choices.

When I was in high school and college I washed dishes, picked beans, followed the wheat harvest driving trucks and combines, caught chickens at chicken farms and crated them onto semi trucks, worked as a painting contractor, and finally as a bagel baker. Would I ever go back to any of those jobs now that I'm an educated professional? Not a chance.

Yes Ceasar Chavez opposed illegal immigration. But he was naive in thinking that he could turn farm working into middle class career work. Find me a single farm worker anywhere in the US who's dream for his or her children is to follow in their footsteps. People do that sort of work so their children don't have to. That's always been the case and it always will be.

What illegal immigration actually does is prevent or delay advances in technology and productivity because it is cheaper to use immigrant labor than modernize. My wife is from Chile and we spend a good deal of time visiting her family in Santiago on or vacations. Chile, like the US, is also full of illegal immigrants but in Chile they are Peruvians and Bolivians for the most part. The typical Chilean maid or cook is a Peruvian. And it is even easier to hire immigrant labor in Chile than the US.

So the typical upper-middle class Chilean family might have a full time maid and cook and perhaps also a nanny. What does it mean when you have a cook? It means you have a woman who shops every morning at the markets and groceries and brings home fresh food to cook from scratch. How does this affect the economy? It means there is little demand for pre-prepared packaged foods in Chile. The typical American supermarket is full of frozen foods that only need a few minutes in the microwave. And millions of Americans, especially single Americans, do little more than pop frozen dinners into the microwave each night. While Chilean supermarkets are just as big and modern as American ones, you'll see very little frozen and pre-packaged foods. Instead you'll see giant produce sections and huge deli and bakery sections in each grocery with more choices of cheeses and meats than you can imagine. In Chile there is simply no market for pre-packaged frozen foods because the sector of the population that would normally buy such food in the US either has maids and cooks if they are a married family, or still lives at home and is fed by their parent's maids and cooks if they are single.

What would happen in the US if illegal immigration was cut off completely? Industries would learn to modernize and increase their productivity. Agriculture would become more mechanized where possible and would move abroad where mechanization is not possible (as in coffee cultivation). The construction industry would evolve into much more modular pre-fab type of construction that requires less on-site labor. Millions of jobs that exist today would simply vanish as the economy adapts to a world in which labor costs much more than today.

So it's not really the case that Americans would do all the work that illegal immigrants to today. I doubt many Americans really want to see their kids doing many of those jobs. Rather, many of those jobs would vanish to be replaced by better jobs that make more productive use of labor.

4/09/2006 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Antonie said...

Just read the Molly Ivins column. Makes a lot of sense. And she's right. Illegal immigrants have a great work ethic. We should appreciate their contribution.

Also enjoyed reading texasdiver above about all the fresh foods, bakery, cheese, and meats in the Chilean markets. Things like that are priceless.

4/09/2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger blogarillo said...

I'm glad to hear from a conservative who finds this as offensive as I do, and this false line of reasoning exists on both sides of the politcal spectrum. Illegals don't take jobs that Americans won't. People will do what they have to to feed their families. Illegals work low-profile, usually short term jobs where it is easy to pay them cash under the table, often times at sub-minimum wage.

4/09/2006 8:04 PM  
Blogger SimoneDB said...

it's smoke and mirrors... the use of fear and anti-immigration/racist hysteria to distract the public from the crimes of this administration. Most immigrants are not Latino and most Latinos are not immigrants. Why does our economy make it so difficult for the middle class? Why can't we have unions and decent wages for jobs, and why is it OK for employers to offer sub-minimum wages and no health benefits to folks at the bottom, pitting the working classes against immigrants (both legal and illegal)? This is about social class and corporate responsiblity, IMO, not immigration.

Every summer on Long Island when I was growing up, a couple of Irish working out in the Hamptons, would be hit by a car. It's interesting, is it not, that the face of the "immigrant" in this so-called "debate," is Latino and not Irish, Slavic, or African, eh?

4/10/2006 1:09 AM  
Anonymous wj said...

It seems some things change very little. When I was growing up (in northern California in the 1950s), the businesses in my home town would always rather hire a kid who lived on one of the local farms than one from the suburbs. Why? "Because they know how to work." Of course, as one of those farm kids, I can point out that nothing a business in town had to offer was anywhere near as hard work as farm work!

So middle America or rural Asia, people keep leaving the farms for work in town. Even what others (born and raised in cities) regard, in their ignorance, as horribly hard and badly paid work. Because they know that, compared to what they have been doing on the land, it's easier and pays lots better.

4/10/2006 12:02 PM  
Anonymous RBennington said...

"Rather, many of those jobs would vanish to be replaced by better jobs that make more productive use of labor."

Well maybe.... but I doubt it. First off, even minus the 11 million low wage workers, there are still millions of High School drop outs competing down wages, whom even with the absence the illegal/legal immigrants will still be here for 50-60 more years. And these people are not going to be capable of filling those new better more productive jobs with their current work ethic. See I know many people who hire immigrants legal and illegal to do different jobs rather then the also abundant high school drop-outs in the Metro area. Why? Because they, the immigrants that is, signal that they are hungry for jobs, by coming to the US in search of them. And hungry people work harder then some kid with daddies credit card, old car, and no ambition to do anything in life except breath. Or even that 30-40 something who has held 53 different jobs in the last 10 years, because they can't hold one for more then two weeks. (TCR knows how to sweat but he also went to some serious school, too)

Second, your long-term view neatly bypasses the short-to-mid-term implications. Adapting productive capital to overcome labor cost is great, and eventually that happens, but not before either a) a big drive up in prices or b) wages which in turn boost inflation hampering all investment into the later-term.

And third, I for one am very tired of paying for other people's welfare states. The interesting thing is that US federal aide given to Mexico was exceeded by the remittance payments to relatives still in Mexico from people working abroad. And this is true for all industrialized nations in regards to their immigrant populations. Please refer to 5-05 CBO report "Remittances". I for one feel that as the richest country we have a duty to help those with less developed economies, but I don't want to just give them a hand-out but a hand-up is another story.

4/12/2006 12:51 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

What would happen in the US if illegal immigration was cut off completely? Industries would learn to modernize and increase their productivity.

That is an interesting opinion, I disagree with it but it is thought provoking. I disagree because laborers have never stood in the way of progress. People are constantly creating technology to replace humans. Likewise, the implication is that illegals are only doing agricultural work this is not true, according to newsweek illegals only account for 29% of the agricultural industry.
First as others haves stated getting rid of the illegals here will solve nothing. As long as there is a demand for their labor they will return. The first thing we need to do is secure our borders. Then worry about those who are here.

Does anyone really believe it would be financially beneficial to lose millions of workers? It seems ridiculous to me. The money we would have to spend on tracking them down, deporting them, the money spent expanding some Bureaucracy to do this, then hearings complete with translators would be a complete waist of money. Money we do not have! Better would be to go after businesses any money spent punishing them could be recouped via fines.

It seems that we need to

4/12/2006 2:35 PM  
Blogger Roy said...

...go after companies to stop illegal immigration but that does not seem productive. Let us remember the baby boomer generation is almost ready to retire this is not the time to shrink the labor force. Our birth rates are not high enough to keep the economy growing so immigrants are needed.

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