How about a Few Pinocchios for the Washington Post's Editorial Nonsense about Jobs?

By Jerry Kammer on July 28, 2016

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I think he would be a terrible president. So I have no complaint with most of the Washington Post editorial that declares Trump to be "uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament" and that his campaign is one "of snarl and sneer, not substance." I agree with all that, especially in regard to Trump's vicious categorization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

But the Post editorial board, which collectively claims authorship of the paper's editorials, goes off the rails in its declaration that immigrants "take jobs that no one else will." That is not just a comforting cliché for enthusiasts of wide-open immigration; it's also untrue. If the fact-checkers at the Post got on the case, I think they'd award the board a few Pinocchios.

The best analysis of the old jobs-no-one-else-will-do canard is probably the one published three years ago by Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, along with Karen Zeigler of CIS. You can find it here.

Camarota and Zeigler wrote: "Of the 472 civilian occupations, only six are majority immigrant (legal and illegal). These six occupations account for 1 percent of the total U.S. workforce." They cited as members of this group agricultural workers, stucco and plaster workers, and personal appearance workers. They went on to report that many jobs commonly thought to be done primarily by immigrants are, in fact, still done primarily by the native-born. This category included taxi drivers, meat processors, construction laborers, and janitors.

The Post editorial board has a record of turning a blind eye to the downside of illegal, aka unauthorized, workers. Their politically correct preference is to see the unauthorized as victims of miserable conditions in their own countries and a lack of charity in ours. But consider this assessment from former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall:

Unauthorized immigration ... subjects migrants to grave dangers and exploitation, suppresses domestic workers' wages and working conditions, makes it difficult to adjust immigration to labor market needs, perpetuates marginal low-wage industries addicted to a steady flow of unauthorized immigrants, is unfair to people willing to enter the United States legally, and undermines the rule of law.

The editorial board acknowledged that Trump's message "has resonated with many Americans whose economic prospects have stagnated" and that "they deserve a serious champion, and the challenges of inequality and slow wage growth deserve a serious response."

Well, there's nary a champion of distressed American workers at the Washington Post. But Jared Bernstein, who was an economic adviser to Vice President Biden before joining the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, offered an assessment that threw cold water on the import-foreign-workers enthusiasts who write the Post's editorials. Wrote Bernstein:

One thing we learned in the 1990s was that a surefire way to reconnect the fortunes of working people at all skill levels, immigrant and native-born alike, to the growing economy is to let the job market tighten up. A tight job market pressures employers to boost wage offers to get and keep the workers they need. One equally surefire way to sort-circuit this useful dynamic is to turn on the immigrant spigot every time some group's wages go up.

And here's another piece of Bernstein eloquence that the editorial board should consider if it would like to reduce its Pinocchio count:

I hate to go to the Big Brother place. But we need to get between employers addicted to an endless flow of cheap labor and unauthorized immigrants for whom a substandard job here is a step up. We have the technology to implement a reliable system that tells employers whether they're hiring an illegal worker. What we have lacked thus far is the political guts to mete out serious punishment to those employers who ignore the law. Without that true immigration reform will never occur.

Moreover, Camarota and Zeigler point out that native-born Americans still comprise 46 percent of workers in the six occupations that are majority immigrant. Many jobs often thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant (legal and illegal) are in fact majority native-born:

  • Maids and housekeepers: 51 percent native-born;
  • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 58 percent native-born;
  • Butchers and meat processors: 63 percent native-born;
  • Grounds maintenance workers: 64 percent native-born;
  • Construction laborers: 66 percent native-born;
  • Porters, bellhops, and concierges: 72 percent native-born; and
  • Janitors: 73 percent native-born.