Saturday, February 3, 2018

Returning to the Facts

I don't always agree with what he says (and often approach things from a different starting point than he does), but John B. Judis has offered some revealing analysis during this era of populist disruption (see my write-up of his 2016 book, The Populist Explosion, here). His latest article on immigration in The American Prospect is very much worth a read.

Judis approaches immigration from the left, finding that immigration maximalism ends up undermining the position of the worker.  The idea that open borders would have negative effects on many workers' wages used to be a conventional belief on the left, and some (such as Bernie Sanders) have not forgotten that.  While many on the left have adopted an ideological commitment to immigration maximalism, Judis's article reminds them that large influxes of "low-skilled" labor can drive down the incomes of working-class Americans (a category that obviously includes numerous recent immigrants themselves).
About one-third to one-half of the immigrants coming legally into the United States are unskilled or lower-skilled. According to a Brookings Institution study, almost one in three don’t even have a high school diploma. About half lack proficiency in the English language. Those percentages are considerably higher among undocumented immigrants. About 70 percent lack proficiency in English. As a result, the greatest percentages of immigrants find unskilled work in agriculture, construction, health care (as aides), maids and housekeeping, and food service...
In 1997, the same year the Jordan Commission issued its findings, the National Academy of Sciences published a report on immigration. While lauding the overall effects of immigration, the report acknowledged that “almost one-half of the decline in real wages for native-born high school dropouts from 1980 to 1994 could be attributed to the adverse impact of unskilled foreign workers.” Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published a new extensive study of immigration. It found again that “to the extent that negative wage effects are found, prior immigrants—who are often the closest substitutes for new immigrants—are most likely to experience them, followed by native-born high school dropouts, who share job qualifications similar to the large share of low-skilled workers among immigrants to the United States.”
Judis makes a lot of other suggestive points in the article.  He notes that, media hysteria to the contrary, the immigration-reform proposal by Tom Cotton and David Perdue to shift immigration toward a more skills-based system is one that has a bipartisan (and centrist) lineage.  He also warns Democrats that declining social cohesion could actually undermine the project of a sustainable welfare state.  Judis supports a wide-scale amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he also reminds Democrats that a policy of immigration maximalism could, over the long term, undermine many goals favored by the political left.

As I suggested in NRO yesterday, our current immigration policy--like most other kinds of policies--involves certain trade-offs.  Maybe those policy trade-offs are worth it; maybe they're not.  But the point is that there are certain trade-offs--and the American people have a right to deliberate about which particular set of trade-offs to choose.

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