The real crisis in the U.S. labor market is not, as we keep hearing, that there are not enough people who can work. The real crisis is all of the working-age people on the sidelines, not even looking for a job. Yes, the unemployment rate is low, but that statistic covers only people who have looked for a job in the last four weeks. The labor-force participation rate, which measures the share of working-age people working or at least looking for work, shows a long-term decline, especially for men without a college degree. This is especially true in states like Texas. When able-bodied men are not even looking for work, a host of social problems ensue — from crime, to drug addiction, to family breakdown.
The possible reasons for the decline in labor-force participation are as varied as the suggested solutions, but the role of immigration, both legal and illegal, is difficult to deny. A comprehensive 2016 study from the National Academies found that increasing the supply of labor through immigration reduces the wages for some U.S.-born workers, particularly the least educated, and this almost certainly reduces the incentive to work.
Perhaps more important, the crutch of immigration allows politicians, employers and the public to ignore this dramatic decline in work and the social problems it causes. We have a clear recent example of this. Even though labor force participation remains near historic lows in Texas, at the end of April, U.S. Sen. Cornyn, R-Texas, was in talks to significantly increase guest workers to satisfy employers. . . .