Friday, January 13, 2017

Sen. Tom Cotton misses the mark on immigration and wages [feedly]

Sen. Tom Cotton misses the mark on immigration and wages
// Economic Policy Institute Blog

Senator Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) recent NY Times op-ed on immigration—"Fix Immigration. It's What Voters Want."—gets a few things right, but the ultimate analysis is off the mark. Cotton's thesis is that immigrants have flooded the labor market to such an extent that immigration is primarily to blame for decades of wage stagnation. Immigration does sometimes have negative impacts on American workers—and we need to be clear about who the economic winners and losers are—but contrary to Cotton's claims, there is scant evidence that immigration overall has kept wages low. Furthermore, Cotton ignores the real reasons wages have failed to rise for so many American workers.

But first, credit where credit is due.

Sen. Cotton deserves credit for calling out businesses that warn of looming labor shortages in low-skilled jobs despite any observable evidence that this is imminent (while research shows the opposite has been true during at least the past decade). Cotton claims, however, that these businesses mainly support immigration so that they can add additional workers to the labor market in order to lower wages. There's a kernel of truth in that, but in reality, employers care more about hiring workers without power or a voice in the workplace; that's what puts downward pressure on wages in low-skilled jobs.

Most Americans do want immigration fixed. They reject a system that leaves families terrified of separation because they fear deportation of undocumented moms, dads, brothers, and sisters, even if they've resided in the United States for decades and have jobs and (otherwise) clean criminal records. Cotton doesn't mention any of this. He instead laments a "generation-long influx of low-skilled immigrants that undermines American workers."

The real problem isn't immigration, it's a legal framework that leaves all low-wage workers and millions of migrant workers—both authorized and unauthorized—vulnerable to wage theft and exploitation. We have allowed employers to race to the bottom toward lower and lower labor standards.

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