Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Illegal Immigrants: Taking Jobs We Don't Want??

One of the most common arguments I hear in support of illegal immigrants is that the illegal immigrants take the jobs that real Americans don't want. The truth is that illegal immigrants take jobs that real Americans want but at sub par wages.

I have had this thought for quite a while but it was reinforced the other day while listening to a radio talk show. A farmer from Kentucky called in and described using illegal Mexicans to work his tobacco. During the conversation he stated he paid the Mexicans $6 per hour. Having lived in the northern Kentucky, southern Ohio area, I know this to be 25 to 40% less than the going rate for tobacco work.

In the late summer, tobacco farmers cut and hang tobacco for it to age, i.e. get "in case." This is hot, dirty, hard, and potentially dangerous work. I've done it several times. Tobacco is cut by hand using a tobacco knife which looks like a tomahawk with a thin metal head. The knife edge is sharp and can easily cut you. A tobacco stick is forced through the stalks of 5-6 plants in order to hang in the barn.

Hanging tobacco in the barn involves at 3-4 people climbing into the rafters of the barn. (I've never seen one with a ladder or steps, so this is tricky.) The highest person may be 30 feet off the ground and standing with each foot on wooden "rails" that support the ends of the sticks laden with tobacco. The rails are often not permanently fastened and only held in place by the weight of the person and the tobacco. One could easily slip and have a catastrophic fall.

Whenever, I worked tobacco everyone was paid $8 per hour or better, up to $10 per hour. When illegal Mexicans started arriving, farmers realized they could get good quality work at 25% to 40% less cost. Illegal Mexicans don't complain because it is still better that what they would earn in Mexico and because they are in the country illegally.

This is the heart of why the federal government does very little to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Businesses of all types, farmers, etc. want the illegal immigrants available for cheap, non-taxed labor. Businesses don't pay worker's compensation, Social Security, etc. on illegal labor.

Many like to lambast Americans as fat and lazy. If this is so then why is this true:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002 the United States led the world in worker productivity: U.S. workers averaged $71,600 in output each (in 1999 dollars). The next highest country was Belgium, where each worker averaged $64,100.
And U.S. worker productivity continues to climb.

The bottom line on illegal immigrant workers is that they are fleeing their home countries in search of a better opportunity much like most of our ancestors. In the process greedy farmers and businesses misuse and abuse them. Where is John Steinbeck when we need him?

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