Friday, September 30, 2016

The Subject Should Be Unions, Not Immigration

This recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, about a recent study on the impact of immigration in America, supposedly provides ammunition for both sides of the debate.  In fact, as the author of the piece makes clear, the only "ammunition" that the study provides for the restrictionist side of the debate is the same old canard about the manner in which immigration supposedly depresses wages for everyone.

There's one giant flaw with this argument:  wages are being depressed across the board, even in areas of work in which immigrants are, at best, marginally represented.  If it were otherwise, you would be hearing about it everywhere, and not just in the New York Times.  Immigrants are simply more willing to accept these depressed wages because, as depressed as those wages are by historic American standards, they are still better than pay for comparable work in their home countries. Nobody flees a country for a lower salary or wage; if restrictionists really believe this, then they are even more viciously racist than I thought.

But what about those "historic American standards"?  Why aren't they being met today?  Well, a big part of the problem is simply the lack of an increase in the federal minimum wage, due to a Congress that believes such increases pick the pockets of "job creators" (i.e., their campaign contributors).  This lie has been exposed, again and again, in local economies where increases have been enacted, and employment went up.  It needs to be exposed again and again, until everyone understands that it's a lie that hurts all of us.

We wouldn't have a minimum wage of any sort, let alone any of the other benefits for workers that we take for granted, each day, if it were not for unions.  Go ahead and think it's a dirty word, but thank them for holidays, health insurance and safe work places, among other things.  And then consider what all of us might again if we reverse this trend.  Maybe we can all benefit as much as New Yorkers still do from a workplace in which unions are active.

Maybe, of course, unions need to adapt as well.  I think that they are, actually; I belong to two that have adjusted to 21st-century realities.  But I think that the rest of us need to catch up.  Fast.

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