Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Who Did the Jobs?

It is repeatedly said by politicians, members of the business community, pro-immigration groups, and think tank thinkers that illegal immigrants (undocumented aliens, unauthorized aliens, unauthorized workers) contribute to the United States because they do the jobs Americans don’t want to do. The current high unemployment and underemployment have not changed their public statements. Doing jobs Americans won’t do is the argument for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes amnesty and a path toward citizenship for the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants, disproportionately from Mexico, currently in the United States.

The Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey 2005, reported that 31% of unauthorized workers were employed in service occupations, compared with 16% of native workers. Specific fields were construction and extractive occupations (19%), production, installation, and repair (15%), farming (24%), cleaning (17%), and food preparation (12%), and were a more significant presence within these categories (e.g., butchers, insulation workers, roofers). They are disproportionally present in leisure and hospitality.

The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. stood at about 3 million in 1980. That number rose to 4 million in 1986, but fell to 2.5 million in 1989. From that date the number increased sharply to 3.9 million in 1992, 5 million in 1996, 8.4 million in 2000, 11.1 million in 2005, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 million in 2009. Between 1989 and 2009, the number quadrupled.

Twenty years ago, as a resident homeowner in California, I had no difficulty finding workers to paint my house, landscape my yard, and complete other repairs and installations. I had no trouble finding what I wanted to eat (meat, dairy products, grain foodstuffs, fruits, vegetables) in supermarkets. I had no trouble getting served in restaurants. I had no trouble getting my hotel rooms cleaned in any place I traveled in the United States. If so, who did these jobs? Why were an additional 9 million illegal immigrants required to provide these services two decades later? If there were only 3 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today would we go without food, shelter, and other services? How do other countries acquire these services without large numbers of illegal immigrants?