Immigrants take jobs from Oregonians

Letter date: 
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Letter publisher: 
The Bulletin
Letter author: 
Richard F. LaMountain
Letter body: 

Recently, Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek and a coterie of the state’s business and agricultural interests called for federal “comprehensive immigration reform” and an increase in the number of foreigners admitted to the United States on work visas. To bolster their case, Kotek et al touted a study by the Michael Bloomberg-founded Partnership for a New American Economy that purported to prove immigrants’ “enormous contributions” to Oregon’s economy.

In lionizing immigrants, however, PNAE’s study shortchanged American workers’ value to our state and national economies — the benefits to which they, as U.S. citizens, should have foremost claim. And it ignored the fact that immigrants, who are disproportionately lower-skilled, deprive our most nomically-vulnerable citizens of desperately-needed jobs.

The details:

Some 400,000 immigrants, both legal and illegal, reside in Oregon. Almost three-quarters of them, PNAE noted, are between 25 and 64 — “in the prime of their working years.” And of those, the study said, some one-third, or 100,000, “have less than a high-school education.”

How do so many poorly educated, working-age immigrants affect Oregon’s lower-skilled U.S. citizens?

The law of supply and demand is simple: A huge influx of lower-skilled immigrants will create an oversupply of labor in U.S. industries that rely heavily on manual workers. That oversupply will intensify competition between immigrant and native-born workers for those industries’ jobs. And it will depress wages for those jobs to the point, often, where American workers can’t afford to take them — but lower-skilled immigrants will.

One inevitable result: Immigrants, as PNAE noted, now comprise disproportionate percentages of the workforces in industries like “fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty foods” (45.3 percent), “crop production” (48.4 percent) and “services to buildings and dwellings” (30.9 percent). Another: Immigrants in our state, noted the study, have come to be “35 percent more likely to work than native-born Oregonians.”

And these developments, in turn, have contributed to this: In September, according to the Oregon Employment Department, more than 220,000 people in our state were officially unemployed, “marginally attached to the labor force” or part-time workers wanting full-time work.

But absent so many lower-skilled immigrants? Many of Oregon’s unemployed and underemployed, the great majority of whom are American, would have jobs those immigrants hold — and at better wages to boot.

Some of PNAE’s analysis was transparently self-serving. “When a state receives 100 H-2B visas” for lower-skilled foreign workers such as cooks, maids and landscapers, the study asserted, “464 jobs are created for U.S.-born workers in the seven years that follow.”

That may be. But if so, wouldn’t filling those 100 jobs with unemployed Americans have the same effect? There’s no shortage here of available lower-skilled workers: “Nearly half of all working-age Americans without a high-school diploma are out of work,” writes Jim Robb, vice president of the immigration-reform group NumbersUSA. What would better help our economy: Bringing those Americans into the workforce — or importing an oversupply of foreign workers who will take jobs those Americans need?

“America is a country,” says Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., “not a spreadsheet. A country puts the needs of its own citizens first.” When our government imports people from abroad who overinflate the labor supply, depress wages and displace Americans from the workforce, it savages that responsibility. Contra Speaker Kotek, PNAE and the financial beneficiaries of cheap foreign labor, our economy would be better served by a policy that dramatically reduces immigration and foreign work visas and strives instead to fully employ American citizens.

— Richard F. LaMountain is vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform.