More on Growing Income Inequality (Series at Slate): The Effect of Immigration

Here is Part Three of Tim Noah’s series on growing inequality, posted over at Slate. This piece addresses immigration, and examines whether large scale immigration since 1965 — and especially in the past thirty years — can explain, to any significant degree, that growing income disparity by way of lowering wages at the bottom of the scale. In all, I think Noah does a good job of debunking the idea that immigration has played a major role, even though he cites studies indicating a depressive effect on wages at the very bottom of the national labor pool (among high school dropouts).

One thing I wish he’d done in the piece (but then again, it wasn’t his purpose to address the larger immigration issue) is to have pointed out that even with the depressive effect on low wage native workers, this is not a reason to restrict immigration as many claim. The fact is, the reason migration has that effect — especially undocumented migration — is because such workers are super-exploitable by employers, can be paid like crap, can’t organize in unions, and often won’t fight for better wages and working conditions for fear of deportation. So it is their “illegality” that has the depressive effect. If the same persons were made legal, allowed and encouraged to organize, and thus protected by the same rules that govern other workers (though admittedly, these are far too weak), the effect of their presence would not be to depress wages, but in all likelihood to boost them. This is the point that rarely gets made in the debate over “illegal immigration” but which needs to. Whatever negative effects can be pointed to by the anti-immigrant side are always a function of the illegality itself — and thus, the ability of bosses to take advantage of such workers even more than other workers — not a function of the workers, or their skills, or their productivity, or their cultures, etc.

Part One of the series is here
Part Two of the series is here

One Response to “More on Growing Income Inequality (Series at Slate): The Effect of Immigration”

  1. “It is their “illegality” that has the depressive effect.”
    very much agreed. Sadly, though, the fight for comprehensive immigration reform – which has the best chance of making it through legislation as far as I can make out – is going to rely partly on the very business forces that want more migrant workers so that they can keep depressing wages and continue to use the system to pit low-wage earners against migrants (Mexicans have taken on the role that historically has belonged to Blacks in the South or Asians in the West) that has worked so well for them for so long.

    In other words, I see even CIR being watered-down to such an extent where it’s of little good to anyone. Much like the Health Care Reform debacle. Let’s see how the nativists in FAIR and Americans for Prosperity rile up their fear-based marchers within the next few months.

    Today, it’s Arabs and their Mosks. Tomorrow, the Messicans…


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