MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle: “You’re sending 1,500 troops to the border. People on the left criticize and say it’s inhumane. People on the right say you’re not putting American priorities first. And employers around this country are saying we need more workers; this is an economic issue.”
President Biden: “Bingo. . . . We need these farm workers.”
Even before the end of pandemic-era border restrictions scheduled for Thursday, the present scale of illegal immigration is nothing short of astonishing.
From the time President Biden took office in January of 2021 through the end of last month, there were 5.1 million “encounters” at the southern border, with a minimum of 2 million migrants released into the country.
If you ask Biden or liberal activists, however, it doesn’t matter. We “need” workers, they claim, in varying degrees of offensiveness. The president told MSNBC last week that we “need these farmworkers.” “Immigrants pick the food we eat … clean our homes,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in April.
Of course, to Biden’s argument, there is already an unlimited guest worker program for agriculture.
But more broadly, those who insist we “need” immigrant workers are displaying a callous disregard for the poorest and least educated American workers.
Employers always claim they need more immigrant workers because recruiting those already here would involve raising wages and benefits — something businesses obviously prefer not to do.
But it is surprising that so many progressive Democrats want wages to remain low, despite their party’s traditional support for American labor.
Dramatically increasing the supply of workers by tolerating (and downright encouraging) illegal immigration is certainly an effective way to stop wages from increasing for the poorest Americans.
Illegal immigrants are most heavily concentrated in food service and preparation, building cleaning and maintenance, groundskeeping, construction, and retail sales.
About 24 million US-born workers are employed in these sectors of the economy based on Census Bureau data from 2021.
As for agricultural labor, it comprises 1% of the US workforce, and the vast majority of illegal immigrants are not farm workers.
If employers truly need more labor, why not let the market work and allow wages to rise? After all, a huge share of the working poor, including those with children, are already employed in the sectors listed above.
Instead, the president’s plan seems to be to release as many illegal immigrants into the country as possible — deliberately preventing wages from increasing for the lowest-paid Americans, including legal immigrants already here.
One may still claim a worker shortage — but there is a huge potential supply already here.
Over the last few decades the share of working-age people in the labor force — working or looking for work — has declined dramatically.
They do not show up as officially unemployed because they say they have not looked for a job in the prior 4 weeks.
The decline in labor force participation is most pronounced among those without a college education.
In the fourth quarter of 2022, only 70% of US-born adults 18 to 64 without a bachelor’s (excluding inmates) were in the labor force, compared to 76% in the fourth quarter of 2000.
If the same share were in the labor force today as in 2000, it would add about 6 million workers to the workforce.
Of course, getting more low-skill Americans back into the labor force will not be easy. For one thing, it will involve the politically difficult task of reforming the welfare and disability systems that discourage work.
But we are much more likely to address this problem if bringing in illegal immigrants is no longer an option.
Moreover, letting wages rise by reducing illegal immigration, instead of encouraging it, would certainly go a long way toward making work more attractive.
Turning our back on all those out of the labor force is much more than just an economic issue.
There are a host of social problems associated with working-age people, particularly men, who are not in the labor force.
These include substance abuse, welfare dependency, mental health issues, obesity, crime, and even an early death.
We cannot think about illegal immigration as some kind of inconvenience that simply has to be accommodated.
Tolerating it — or, worse, encouraging it, as the administration has done — is an insult to the rule of law.
Equally important, allowing in so many illegal immigrants means turning a blind eye to the destructive impact of low wages and idleness among our fellow Americans.
Steven Camarota is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
This story originally appeared on NYPost