Most Americans favor policies that improve their wages, their access to meaningful work, and their ability to own a home and keep their families together. An immigration policy with these goals in mind would help. But as David Leonhardt puts it in his newsletter, "the elite’s misunderstanding of popular opinion" leads (or misleads) politicians - particularly the so-called "moderates" - into pursuing less popular courses of action on immigration, as well other issues.
Not one Democratic "moderate" (or any Democrat for that matter) has raised a public concern about provisions to issue millions of work permits to unauthorized migrants during a pandemic economy.
Shakil Hamid thinks Democrats are misreading the room:
This is particularly bad for legal immigrants — not all of whom are high-fliers at Silicon Valley or Wall Street. Most people in this demographic — honest men and women who've played by the rules — compete directly in the workplace with those who enter this country in breach of our laws."
Bill Wong agrees:
There is simply no job that native-born workers and naturalized citizens won’t do. But if they’re forced to compete with millions of newly amnestied workers, it’ll be harder for citizens to bargain for better wages and benefits.
"It's basic supply and demand. Over a dozen credible, peer-reviewed studies have all found that an influx of foreign workers drives down wages. And perversely, less-skilled and minority workers — including many naturalized citizens — tend to suffer the most drastic wage effects."
Henry Olsen scratches his head over Biden's immigration strategy:
One might think that Biden would try to stem the flow. After all, he ran as Uncle Joe from Scranton, the man who viscerally understands the needs of working-class Americans. So he should know that the working class needs tight labor markets to thrive. Without that, businesses will always keep wages down for the least skilled workers, much as they have done over most of the past two decades. The people flowing into the country have to work. That sudden influx cannot be good for native workers."
Biden's approval ratings on immigration have plummeted, and Latino voters in Texas are the tip of the down-facing arrow. Olsen concludes that "Biden's inability, or unwillingness, to put Americans first when it comes to immigration is the single biggest political problem he faces."
But Biden is hardly alone. The pro-amnesty San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board offers something of a mea culpa for underestimating "complexity of Latino political views," and warns that "coastal liberals" who dominate culture, media, and politics are wrong to assume that Latino voters support big immigration increases.
"Low-skilled workers saw more pay hikes under Trump than any other recent president," they write. "Economists may fight about why that happened, but it is common sense to think that a tighter job market leads to wage growth as employers compete for workers."
Common sense, surely, but not conventional wisdom inside the beltway.
David Autor also extols the advantages of tight labor markets:
....For years, social scientists have warned that because of declining birthrates, retiring baby boomers and severe immigration restrictions, we're approaching an era of labor scarcity. The good news is that this long-term demographic crunch is going to make cheap labor more rare. Countries undergoing similar demographic changes have seen rising wages among young non-college-educated workers, falling inequality, and more "healthy" automation..."
Ah, but there are profits to be made from lower labor costs. Inequality, after all, means a significant number of people are doing very well, and the winners tend to have outsized influence in Washington, as well as the money to make up for any gaps in public support. Americans who have experienced decades of wage stagnation have fewer political levers to pull, beyond their own numbers.
Wage-earning Americans who have the most to gain from a more tightly regulated immigration system have little time to call their members of Congress. They don't have the luxury. Nearly half of Americans have no money saved for retirement and would have trouble coming up with a few hundred dollars in the case of an emergency. Meanwhile, billions of dollars pour into media and political campaigns to keep immigration high while the investment class sleeps.
With some regularity, we are reminded by an Autor, Leonhardt, or Olsen that the benefits of tight labor markets are within our reach, but then the "narrative" downs out the message. Journalism pivots back to cloaking loose-labor policies with political horse-race morality plays (or politically-invented moral scandals involving horses).
The signal gets lost in the noise.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Sustainability Initiative for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 18th 2021 @ 4:05pm EDT