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Weekly Diaspora: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

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by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger:

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”