Eric Ruark's picture


  by  Eric Ruark

Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan launched the GOP’s plan to fight poverty and enable the upward mobility of Americans. While steeped in technocratic jargon, the paper neglects specific mention of actual legislation, or even a legislative strategy, in favor of vague stratagems on how to make government more streamlined and metrics-based. The few policy prescriptions presented were lifted from the 1994 Contract with America, part of which was passed into law the last time Republicans controlled Congress while a Democrat was in the White House.

In response, the Obama White House responded that as Speaker of the House, Ryan does not have to just put out an expanded list of talking points, he can effect change through the legislative process if he so chooses. “Put it in a bill. Put it on the floor…Have a debate. That’s the whole reason [Ryan] presumably ran for the job in the first place,” said a bemused White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Partisans can debate the merits of whether Ryan can or should apply the political equivalent of sabermetrics to the federal government, and whether supply-side economics reduces poverty, but the remarkable thing about Ryan’s “vision” is his failure to acknowledge that immigration policy has any bearing on the U.S. labor market.

The total lack of any mention of immigration is especially glaring in light of the fact that this issue propelled Donald Trump to victory in the Republican Presidential primary, and the failure to address the concerns of the Republican base over current immigration policy helped lead to the downfall of both the former House Speaker John Boehner and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Ryan has been adamant that any discussion of curtailing the inflow of foreign workers into the country is off the table, and the release of the principles which will guide him as Speaker made it clear he will not be undertaking any changes to the immigration system that would boost employment for American workers. Given his long history of pushing expansionist immigration policies, there is little doubt that Ryan’s pronounced commitment to fighting poverty in America is in conflict with his philosophical embrace of mass immigration.

This show an ideological blindness in the face of systematic unemployment, wage stagnation, and a working-age population that is growing much faster than the pace of job creation (BLS data show that the working-age population has outpaced employment gains by 27.3 million since 2000). It also ignores the joblessness that plagues our inner cities, particularly among youths. Creating “opportunity zones” in urban areas, or giving tax breaks to companies for creating new jobs does Americans little good when any jobs created are given to workers brought in from outside the United States.

At the beginning of 2016, there were 55 million Americans of working-age who were without a job. Ryan cannot bring himself to acknowledge that this is in any way related to the one million lifetime work permits that are handed out to immigrants every year, and the approximately 700,000 guest workers that are admitted every year; and the fact that illegal migration continues and evidence shows it is on the increase.

The juxtaposition of Ryan’s political vision with the realities of public policy is evident in that the position paper he endorses points to 1964 (War on Poverty) and 1965 (Head Start) as seminal dates which mark the beginning of the decline in middle class fortunes, without acknowledging that 1965 also marks the passage of the Hart-Celler Act which began the modern era of mass immigration. Does it surprise anyone besides Ryan that the War on Poverty has failed in no small measure because of the importation of millions of impoverished people from around the world over the last fifty years coupled with the declining labor participation rate of natives who were displaced in favor of less-expensive immigrant labor?

There were other factors at play over the last half-century, of course, such as the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs to countries with lower labor costs. But this only highlights the need to make sure that U.S. immigration policy is responsive to the needs of America’s citizens. Until that is the case, any proposal to put the U.S. economy back on a sure footing is little more than political theater.

ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA

Immigration Numbers
Paul Ryan
unemployed Americans
Vulnerable Americans

Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 2:37pm EDT

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