The New York Times published a remarkable editorial on Sunday. It made me wonder if the editorial board is beginning to feel that U.S. immigration policy-makers and business leaders should be more concerned with the fate of American workers and less interested in expanding the alphabet-soup of visa categories that every year brings hundreds of thousands of lower-wage foreign workers to every level of the American economy.
Here is an excerpt from the editorial:
If a business really needed workers, it would pay up. That is not happening, which calls into question the existence of a skills gap as well as the urgency on the part of employers to fill their openings. … Corporate executives have valuable perspectives on the economy, but they also have an interest in promoting the notion of a skills gap. They want schools and, by extension, the government to take on more of the costs of training workers that used to be covered by companies as part of on-the-job employee development. They also want more immigration, both low and high skilled, because immigrants may be willing to work for less than their American counterparts.
Compare that sentiment, which suggests solidarity with American workers, with this Times editorial from June 3, 2008, which sought to stir outrage on behalf of immigrant workers:
Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. … The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it. A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.
Now, I abhor abuse of immigrant workers, regardless of their legal status. But I think that many of us who want to limit immigration believe that the fundamentally admirable desire to protect vulnerable foreign workers has often blocked recognition of the vulnerability of American workers to whom we feel a more immediate sense of obligation rooted in our common national identity.
Many of us who want to limit immigration believe that immigration policy has been shaped by corporate interests that are intensely focused, well organized, and lavishly staffed by former public servants who have hung their shingle on K Street. Post-national and cosmopolitan in their orientation, they look condescendingly on American workers who are poorly equipped to prosper in the ruthless, new global economy and unable to hire lobbyists to represent their interests.
We are compelled by economists like Barry Chiswick, who in 2006 wrote this in the Times: "If the number of low-skilled foreign workers were to fall, wages would increase. Low-skilled American workers and their families would benefit, and society as a whole would gain from a reduction in income inequality."
We are persuaded by the logic of George Borjas, the Harvard professor who says immigration policy has brought about a massive redistribution of wealth from workers at the lower ranges of our economic pyramid to those at the top.
We are convinced that Hedrick Smith, in his book Who Stole the American Dream, was on to something when he wrote: "[T]he record since the late 1970s shows that the concentration of wealth and the concentration of power in America are mutually reinforcing." Smith went on to quote this observation by political scientist Larry Bartels: "In Aristotle's terms, our political system seems to be functioning not as a democracy but as an oligarchy."
I have read too much of the New York Times to believe that Sunday's editorial is the sign of shifting sentiment. I am skeptical that there is much inclination on the editorial board or in the publisher's suite to identify with the struggles of American workers.
Still, it is pleasant to hope that I am wrong.