Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Immigration: winners and losers

The May issue of First Things arrived the other day, and in an article titled The Ethics of Immigration: An Exchange (Chip/Scaperlanda) -- I don't think you can find this on the website yet -- I saw this sentence that summarizes some of the complexities of the issue. It comes from Chip's part, on p.42, where he describes some of the "winners" and "losers" when less-expensive labor migrates into the United States:
A 1997 study by the National Research Council confirmed statistically that labor migration reduces the wages of the Americans who compete for the same jobs while benefiting more privileged Americans who buy the products and services they produce.
Let me unpack that statement and consider who gains and who loses.

[A] immigrant laborer gain: a job with (e.g.) 4× as much income as might be available "back home"
[B] Americans competing for jobs against [A] lower wages; fewer benefits
[C] More privileged Americans who purchase goods/services produced by [A] and [B] lower prices

There is something fundamentally unfair about all this. In the current situation, the rich (including, I daresay, most of you reading this) gain by having lower prices for services -- if you hire anyone for yardwork or housework, or a crew for rough construction work (like demolition) for example. Working up the table, we have less privileged Americans who are faced with lower wages and less (or nonexistent) benefits. Finally, there are the immigrants (documented or not) who also benefit by much higher wages than they'd get on "their side" of the border -- I seem to remember a disparity of about 4:1 -- and for how many people?

If we focus only on Americans -- those who are here legally -- then labor migration's effects are clearly anti-laborer and pro-rich.

But that 4:1 income disparity functions as an irresistible magnet, pulling people across the border.

What is the right way to deal with this, or to think about this -- not just from the perspective of "what's right for America and Americans?" but also "what's God's perspective on this?"

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