Immigrants Don’t “Take American Jobs”

A certain subset of Americans believe that immigrants “take American jobs”, which is their excuse for hating immigrants. This is a breathtaking irony in a nation that is 99% immigrant. As a recent NYT article noted, however, such people assume there are a finite number of American jobs, and when someone gets a job, someone else must lose one.

Not so. Immigration expands the economy. Immigrants create more jobs.

Imagine 100,000 new immigrants to the country, each of whom will find work. Each will then earn a paycheck. The paycheck is reduced by the amount the earner pays in taxes, so tax revenues go up from 100,000 new taxpayers, which is good for the rest of us. Then, every worker has to live someplace, usually by renting from an American, has to buy food, clothing, medicine, and so on, just like everyone else. Each of these expenses for 100,000 new people creates new income, or a new job. There is increased demand for workers for all of these things, builders, food workers, retailers, doctors and nurses, etc.

When a large number of new immigrants arrives, which has happened a number of times in US history, the economy expands significantly. There are more people, and they need goods and services. Immigrant jobs increase the number of other jobs in services and goods for the new immigrants. Immigrants do not “take American jobs”; they create new American jobs.

Immigrants do not “take American jobs”;
they create new American jobs.

There is another reason that the meme “taking American jobs” is wrong. Today, people who complain about this are often exercising an ugly prejudice against Spanish-speaking immigrants. Mostly, they mean Mexican field workers, who work some of the nation’s poorest paid and most demanding jobs.

One state on the east coast passed an ugly and hateful law—only one of many—a few years ago based entirely on their belief that farm workers were “taking American jobs”. Faced with this virulent hatred, farm workers and many other Mexican-Americans simply packed up and left the state. That year there was no one to harvest the crops. Farmers advertised these “American” jobs, and a few people showed up, but all of them were gone by noon of the second day, unable to take the physical demands. Their pay for that day and a half was about $72, same as the pay those hated Mexicans who were “stealing American jobs” would earn. The big farmers had to plow their crops under, and lost millions.

People who come north from desperately poor countries send money back to their families. For those of us who earn a reasonably comfortable living, the idea of sending half of our pay to the old country seems like a huge sacrifice, and it is. But imagine doing it on what the typical immigrant field worker earns. While you’re at it, remember that these workers don’t have regular full time jobs. They must move with the harvest and sleep where they can. At best, their annual income is $12,500. At best.

Now imagine sending half of that back home to your family. That means you as a typical field worker will have some $6,000 to pay for all of your needs for the year. But you also know that if you don’t send the other half home, your family will probably not have enough to eat, the children won’t be able to go to school, old clothing will have to last another year, there will be no medicine.

Anyone who knows the facts
of field workers’ lives
and still complains
has a soul devoid of empathy.

As an immigrant field worker, particularly sin papeles, you may spend decades here alone. You can’t make love to your spouse, or be by her side. You don’t get to see your children grow up. You won’t be there when your parents die.

Anyone who knows the facts of these good people’s lives and still complains about immigrants “taking American jobs” has a soul devoid of empathy, let alone the Christian morality they so often crow about, and that’s before we talk about their flawed reasoning.

Even though there is so much of this ugly cruelty about immigrants in our country, particularly among naive conservatives who keep electing plutocrats who rob them, the plight of our grossly underpaid farm workers is pretty much beside the point when “taking American jobs” is the complaint. Not only do immigrants not “take American jobs”, immigration always results in an expanded economy, with a net increase in the number of “American” jobs.

Complainers are not able to understand
because their error is an item of faith.

I suspect that many of the people endlessly complaining about “American” jobs are simply not able to understand the reasons they are wrong, because their error is the result of an irrational belief. It’s an item of faith, like so many other false conservative beliefs, that immigrants “take American jobs”. It must be true because we believe it is. But the truth is that immigrants have always generated a net increase in jobs, including during the times our own ancestors were immigrants.

By the way, maybe you noticed that all of the high school students who were accepted to multiple Ivy League colleges this year are the first-generation children of immigrants.

We should open our borders and welcome a lot more immigrants. It would be good for our souls and even better for the economy.


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