"Low-Skill Immigration: A Case for Restriction" Published in American Affairs

By Jason Richwine on November 21, 2017

Last fall, I participated in a CIS panel entitled "Immigration and Less-Educated American Workers", alongside University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and political scientist Charles Murray. The panel was perhaps most notable for Murray's revelation that, despite his libertarian instincts, he had come around to the position that we should "shut down low-skill immigration for a while" to encourage more Americans to rejoin the labor force.

Murray's announcement is not the panel's only legacy, however. Amy Wax and I realized that the material from our own presentations would combine nicely into a long-form essay. Now, one year later, that essay appears in the latest issue of American Affairs. Our essay is unique in that it combines "top-down" Census Bureau data on native job losses with "bottom-up" ethnographic research on employer preferences for immigrant labor. From the introduction:

Lawler Foods, a large commercial bakery outside of Houston, prefers to hire Hispanics. That was the allegation in legal briefs filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which contends that Lawler created its 80-percent Hispanic workforce in an area where much of the low-skill labor pool is black by advertising for Spanish speakers, then relying on word-of-mouth among its Spanish-speaking employees. When non-Hispanic applicants still showed up, the company would discourage them with horror stories about the nature of the work, emphasize that Spanish is required, and sometimes declare outright that non-Hispanics would not be considered. ...

How did we get here? This is a story about the decline in the quantity and quality of work performed by less-skilled U.S.-born workers, along with the concurrent rise of immigrant labor as a cheap and reliable alternative. Immigration is only one part of a complicated dynamic that has caused ever-greater proportions of natives to withdraw from the labor force. However, as long as the United States receives a steady flow of low-skill labor from abroad, little incentive exists for politicians, business owners, and opinion leaders to address the problem of native idleness. The Left and the Right, for different reasons, have embraced a system that encourages the replacement of native workers — including subsequent generations of immigrants — rather than improving their prospects. This system threatens to create a politically and economically untenable cycle for lower-wage workers.

Cutting off the flow of low-skill immigration could force a renewed commitment to getting Americans back to work — a commitment that must include, among other things, aggressive job recruiting and training by employers, reviving the social expectation that prime-age men must work, ending the "college for all" mindset that devalues blue-collar occupations, and strengthening work requirements as a condition of aid.

The whole essay is available here.