From the New York Times
The first thing to note about workers in low-wage jobs that require relatively little education is that the overwhelming majority are born in the United States. For example, the 2007 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau showed that 65 percent of meatpackers, 68 percent of construction laborers, 73 percent of dishwashers and 74 percent of janitors were U.S.-born. Of course, the immigrant share (legal and illegal) of any occupation varies enormously from city to city. But it’s clear from this data that Americans are willing to do this work.
According to the January Current Population Survey, which measures unemployment, there are now 24 million adult native-born Americans (18 to 64 years of age) who have no education beyond high school who are either unemployed or not in the labor force, which means they are not even looking for work.
Given the severity of this economic downturn, the long-term decrease in wages and employment for the least educated will likely accelerate.
During the last few decades the share of these less-educated Americans who are working has been declining and their wages, adjusted for inflation, have been falling. At the same time, the number of immigrants in the low-wage labor market has grown drastically. While most economists think immigration has caused some of this deterioration in wages, there is debate about how much. But even before the recession, it was almost impossible to find any evidence of a labor shortage at the bottom of the economy. If there was, wages and employment rates should all be rising, the exact opposite of what’s been happening for a long time.
Given the severity of this economic downturn, the long-term decrease in wages and employment for the least educated will likely accelerate. Assuming the United States does not change its immigration policy during the recession, competition between native-born Americans and new immigrants will almost certainly intensify for low-wage jobs.
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