Divide and Conquer

Since Mexican immigration is the topic du jour (not in the blogosphere as much as the streets of L.A.), let me share the findings of a 2001 report from the Center for Immigration Studies :

Large-scale immigration from Mexico is a very recent phenomenon. In 1970, the Mexican immigrant population was less than 800,000, compared to nearly 8 million in 2000.
. . .
Though most natives are more skilled and thus do not face significant job competition from Mexican immigrants, this study (consistent with previous research) indicates that the more than 10 million natives who lack a high school degree do face significant job competition from Mexican immigrants.

By increasing the supply of unskilled labor, Mexican immigration in the 1990s has reduced the wages of workers without a high school education by an estimated 5 percent. The workers affected are already the lowest-paid, comprising a large share of the working poor and those trying to move from welfare to work.

This reduction in wages for the unskilled has likely reduced prices for consumers by only an estimated .08 to .2 percent in the 1990s. The impact is so small because unskilled labor accounts for only a tiny fraction of total economic output.

So the findings seem to suggest that there’s a nugget of truth in the xenophobic “they’re stealing our jobs” line in that unskilled workers are forced to compete with their immigrant counterparts, but the only “stolen” jobs are taken by greedy employers who want to skirt our labor laws and make a few extra bucks. The total lack of price reductions additionally supports the fact that there is no great economic incentive for this shift in the workforce. Sure, immoral businesses are saving money, but those savings are being put into their pockets, not passed onto consumers.

Because of their much lower education levels, Mexican immigrants earn significantly less than natives on average. This results in lower average tax payments and heavier use of means-tested programs. Based on estimates developed by the National Academy of Sciences for immigrants by age and education at arrival, the lifetime fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is a negative $55,200.

Although they comprise 4.2 percent of the nation’s total population, Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) account for 10.2 percent of all persons in poverty and 12.5 percent of those without health insurance. Even among Mexican immigrant families that have lived in United States for more than 20 years, almost all of whom are legal residents, more than half live in or near poverty and one-third are uninsured

Even after welfare reform, an estimated 34 percent of households headed by legal Mexican immigrants and 25 percent headed by illegal Mexican immigrants used at least one major welfare program, in contrast to 15 percent of native households. Mexican immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years, almost all of whom are legal residents, still have double the welfare use rate of natives.

Mexican immigration acts as a subsidy to businesses that employ unskilled workers, holding down labor costs while taxpayers pick up the costs of providing services to a much larger poor and low-income population.

…and the vicious cycle begins anew. Immigrants are paid less which makes them more likely to be in poverty which makes them more likely to need social services which they aren’t contributing “enough” towards because they’re paid less…but don’t fall into the trap of reaching the simple conclusion that “if they’re here, they should pay taxes”. Another part of the report points out that they do pay taxes, but there’s a rub :

The March 2000 CPS indicates that in 1999, the average federal income tax payment by households headed by Mexican immigrants was $2,156, less than one third of the $7,255 average tax contribution made by native households. By design, the federal income tax system is supposed to tax those with higher income and fewer dependents at higher rates than those with lower income and more dependents. So the much lower income tax contributions of Mexican immigrants simply reflect the tax code and not some systematic attempt by Mexican immigrants to avoid paying taxes.

In 1999, 74 percent of households headed by natives had to pay at least some federal income tax, compared to only 59 percent of Mexican immigrant households. Even if one confines the analysis to legal Mexican immigrants, the gap between their tax contributions and those of natives remains large. Using the same method as before to distinguish legal and illegal Mexican immigrant households, the estimated federal income liability of households headed by legal Mexican immigrants in 1999 was $2,538. Thus, the very low tax contribution of Mexican immigrants is not simply or even mostly a function of legal status, but rather reflects their much lower incomes and larger average family size.

Which is where most Republicans would start talking about tax “reform” as if raising the taxes of the poor is going to help someone who isn’t even lucky enough to live paycheck to paycheck. If businesses insist on paying immigrants shit, the least they should do is pass along the difference to help offset they problem they’re creating. Better yet, they should stop being allowed to break the law and save a few bucks. Or to paraphrase something I wrote earlier, breaking the law should always be more expensive than obeying it.

We’ve got a serious immigration problem in this country that’s the fault of businesses who have shifted jobs from American workers to illegal immigrants and the goverment that’s looked the other way for decades. The idea that the President and his allies want to codify this second class of workers (and solidify the division between the two) shows you how out of touch he is with working men and women. The struggle in the streets of Los Angeles and elsewhere isn’t one between immigrants and Americans, but between the working class and the business/government entities that are looking for new avenues to cheap labor, even if it means exploiting ethnic tensions to turn people against each other.