One of the constants in D.C. is that no matter the state of the U.S. labor market, the clarion call for more immigration will resound in the chambers of Congress and reverberate through corporate media outlets.
Even now, as the Biden Administration has effectively opened the southern border to millions of illegal aliens, immigration expansionists refuse to take pause. Even now, as tens of millions of Americans are still struggling, not just to rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 economic shutdown, but to overcome the lingering effects of the Great Recession – with the economy in another tailspoin – will immigration expansionists consider the welfare of the American people.
One of the more determined advocates for amnesty and increases in foreign workers to emerge in this Congress is Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Just last week, Sen. Tillis told a reporter from Roll Call that Americans were “disturbingly lacking” in STEM skills as he called for an increase in the number of H1-B guest worker visas. This despite countless examples of qualified Americans losing tech jobs after training their foreign replacements, including at the Bank of America in Sen. Tillis’ own state in 2016.
Just this month railroad freight transport company CSX announced it was going to lay off more than 135 IT workers in Florida after contracting with the Indian outsourcing company, Tata Consulting Services. And OhioHealth, announced it was laying off close to 600 IT workers and outsourcing those jobs to Accenture, another multinational "professional services" firm. These decisions were not made because there aren't enough qualified workers already in the United States.
According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, "less than a third (28%) of STEM-educated workers [are] actually working in a STEM job," because there are many more STEM grads than job opportunities in that field. This is reflected in the wage data, which clearly shows no shortage of tech workers.
As Rachel Rosenthal wrote for Bloomberg last year:
Ample evidence suggests these industry claims are overblown, if not false: For one thing, more than 90% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are earned by American citizens and permanent residents. And if the U.S. really lacked skilled workers, wages would be rising sharply. Instead, we see mild wage growth and tens of thousands of candidates beyond the available supply of jobs.
Simply put, what Sen. Tillis says about America lacking qualified tech workers is not true.
Sen. Tillis has also been in discussions with Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) about crafting an amnesty deal. When this became public, Tillis’ office “downplayed the scope of prior talks” to Fox News and said he would wait until the border crisis came to an end. He didn’t say he would take steps to end the border crisis, rather that he would wait until millions more illegal aliens had come into the country before he would restart his push to grant them amnesty.
The use of foreign guest workers to replace American tech workers, or to displace recent grads attempting to enter the job market, has gotten considerable attention in recent years. The effects of immigration, particularly illegal immigration, on Americans without a college degree, on the other hand, goes largely unreported. While politicians’ claims that there are “jobs Americans won’t do” go largely unchallenged (A convincing argument can be made that this is because many journalists today come out of "elite" universities and have little connection to or affinity with working-class Americans).
The corporate lobby’s post-COVID contention is that there is a “labor shortage,” as if tens of millions of working-age Americans succumbed to the virus or somehow otherwise vanished from the Earth. What did happen was that the work situation changed for many of those who had been commuting to an office every day. Telework remains common and worker mobility has significantly increased. Employers and employees are both learning how to navigate a labor market that is going through significant and likely permanent changes.
What also happened is that Americans without a college degree, those who have traditionally been been considered “blue-collar” workers and earn an hourly wage, suffered disproportionally during the COVID shutdown and continue to struggle relative to their "white-collar" peers. Millions have yet to rejoin the workforce and the pandemic exacerbated what is a longer-term trend, as Steven Camarota and Karen Ziegler noted last week in a report they put out for the Center for Immigration Studies
Center for Immigration Studies
Like all measures of labor force attachment, labor force participation rises and falls with the economy to some extent. But when we look at the peak years of the economic expansion (2000, 2007, and 2019) as well as 2022 because it is the most recent first-quarter data available, we find a decline in labor force participation [for the U.S.-born] in all states or nearly all states depending on the sub-populations examined....
While the picture for U.S.-born men and women with a bachelor’s is mixed, with some states showing a decline and others stability, among the less-educated — those without a bachelor’s degree — labor force participation has declined in every state or nearly every state, depending on the group examined…Of U.S.-born adults 18-64, without a bachelor’s degree, labor force participation was lower in 2019, even before the pandemic, than in 2000 in every state, with an average fall-off of 5.5 percentage points. [emphasis added]
As one can see in the above table (click to enlarge), the number of 18-64-year-olds without a college degree who are employed has gone down by 11.1 million since the beginning of 2000. Correspondingly, the number who are unemployed is about the same around 4 million, and the number of 18-64-year-olds without a bachelor’s who have dropped out of the labor force has increased by 5.7 million.
There are several reasons why this has occurred. One reason has been the constant influx of immigrants who are competing with Americans for jobs in this sector of the labor market. Employers tend to prefer foreign-born workers because they command lower wages, are less likely to organize or join labor unions, and are generally less likely to demand better working conditions because there is always another cohort of foreign workers waiting to enter the U.S. labor market.
Keep in mind that the jobs numbers do not yet reflect the effect that almost two million illegal aliens released into the United States by the Biden Administration will have on the U.S. labor market. The job prospects for Americans are only going to get worse, much worse, going forward. This isn't to downplay the concerted efforts by members of Congress like Sen. Tillis to replace college-educated Americans with foreign guest workers. It is to bring attention to the consequence of decades of public policy endorsed by the leadership of both parties who have treated working-class Americans as little more than an afterthought. When politicians talk about the need for "comprehensive immigration reform" American workers enter the conversation only as foils; those who by their laziness or incompetence necessitate more immigration.
There are 35 million U.S.-born between the ages of 18 and 64 who are not working. One thing is certain: There is no labor shortage in the United States.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA