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Low-Skill Immigration: A Case for Restriction

Article author: 
Amy L. Wax, and Jason Richwine
Article publisher: 
American Affairs Journal
Article date: 
November 26, 2017
Article category: 
Immigration Impact
Medium
Article Body: 

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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...
 
In September 2017, the unemployment rate in the United States was just 4.2 percent, a low not seen since the dot-com bubble. The figure is deceptive, however, because it considers only people who are employed or seeking employment. The fraction of adults who are “not in the labor force,” meaning not even looking for a job, is 37 percent, up from 33 percent since the start of the millennium...
 
Unlike the unemployment rate, which fluctuates depending on economic conditions, the labor force dropout rate has marched quietly upward, affected only marginally by the state of the economy at any given time. The rise has been so gradual that it rarely generates any news stories or alarmed speeches from politicians...
 
A common finding in those reports is that, although prime-age men across the socioeconomic spectrum have been dropping out of the workforce, the problem is most acute among the less-skilled native born. A relatively low 6 percent of native-born college graduate men are out of the labor force, but 17 percent of native men with only a high school diploma are not looking for work, as are 36 percent of high school dropouts. Black Americans have a labor-force dropout rate of 22 percent...
 
In contrast with native-born men in their prime working years, and especially those at the bottom of the skill distribution, immigrant men have high and consistent rates of labor-force participation despite their lower average education...
 
Is there any serious hope that our country will adopt the strategies we advocate here? The situation is not encouraging. Americans are now starkly divided by class in their attitudes toward immigration. As Mark Krikorian has said, immigration is not a left-right issue, but top-down. Business interests and economic libertarians in the Republican party push for more low-wage labor, while ethnic pressure groups have become a primary constituency of the Democrats. Both sides embrace an ideology of one-world globalism, which conveniently aligns with their upper-income class interests. This coalition often comforts itself with the belief that mass immigration is not detrimental—and perhaps is even beneficial—to the low-skill Americans with whom the newcomers compete. We beg to differ...