Perspectives on immigration 2: Economic concerns and Christian response

Economic Concerns

Christian perspective on the economic impact of immigration can be summarized through two different questions. One, can our nation afford the number of immigrants crossing our borders? Two, can our nation afford not to have the number of immigrants crossing our borders? To be sure, one could speculate that both sides would agree such questions on their own are temptations to see immigrants as fiscal units rather than as individuals made in God’s image. This however, must be held in tension with the reality of the concerns raised by immigration’s economic impact.  This post examines the first of two major economic concerns.

1. The influx of immigrants takes jobs from native workers.

Citing studies by Harvard economist George Borjas, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, observes that the large number of low-skilled immigrants puts “downward pressure on low-end wages”, making it difficult for low-skilled citizens to compete for the same jobs, since the immigrant will usually do the job for much less money. This, according to Edwards, “is not a good thing for America’s low-skilled workers, leaving them vulnerable to…direct job competition, wage depression, and flooded labor markets.” [1] This claim assumes an influx of immigrants sufficient to create such an environment of job competition. However, other factors are present to temper this claim.

The condition of America’s current and future labor force must be taken into account. It is projected that from 2006 to 2016, the U.S. economy will grow at an average rate of 2.8%, a modest projection to be sure, but one that will generate an increased need for workers in the labor force. Among citizens, no increase in the labor force is expected between now and 2020, leading to an aging native labor force. [2]  In addition, Jenny Hwang, devout Christian and director if the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, notes that “low U.S. fertility rates will not only slow labor force growth, but increase the ratio of retired people to working people.” [3] In short, there are simply not enough native–born workers to replenish the low-skilled labor force as its needs grow with the economy, unless those gaps are filled by immigrants.

The citizenry that makes up the current labor force is also becoming more educated. In 1960, 50% of American men dropped out of high school to work a trade or join the military (the writer’s father being among them). Presently, less than 10% do so. However, of the 50.7 million jobs projected to be created between now and 2016, half will require no more than high school diploma. [4]

The suggested solution to this situation is to tighten and limit the extent to which immigrants can fill the gaps mentioned above. Such attempts however, have been problematic and have produced shortages. Hugh Morton of the National Association of Home Builders points out that “contractors struggling to find quality roofers, concrete finishers, etc…found immigrant trade contractors a godsend.” [5]  In 2012, crackdowns on immigrant workers  in Georgia led to an astonishing 50% of its agricultural produce being left to rot in the fields – at a cost to the state of more than $400 million, with total losses prompted by the act topping $1billion. In Alabama, immigration limitations have cost the state $11 billion since June of 2011. [6] New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said of immigrants, “New York City alone is home to more than three million immigrants, who make up 40% of our population…our City’s economy would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation.” [7] The entrepreneurial spirit of many immigrants accounts for a number of business and services that would otherwise not exist due to the culturally distinct manner by which some immigrants perform their service. [8]

Low-skilled jobs are not the only areas of employment where Christians raise economic concern. Highly skilled positions are also addressed, although concern does not appear to be as intense in this area. Edwards confirms that among the gains and benefits brought to the nation through immigration, those related to work done by “highly educated and entrepreneurially talented immigrants” is seen as a valuable contribution to the economic picture. Notable examples are, Sergey Brin, Russian immigrant who founded Google, Inc., John and David Tu, Taiwanese immigrants and founders of the multi-billion dollar Kingston Technology, Dr. Alfred Quinones-Hinojosa, neuro-surgeon at Johns Hopkins University, who picked tomatoes in the fields of California as an undocumented immigrant before working his way through school, eventually attending Harvard Medical School. It is clear from these examples that the contribution of immigrants to the fields of science and technology in the U.S. are unmistakable. Another Taiwanese immigrant, Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo, explains,

“Yahoo would not be an American company today if the United States had not welcomed my family and me almost 30 years ago. We must do all we can to insure that the door is open for the next generation of top entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists from around the world to come to the U.S. and thrive.” [9]

It would seem that while concerns are valid regarding the number of immigrants entering the U.S., there appears to be sufficient room for both citizens and immigrants in both high-skill and low-skill jobs. However, more research is needed, including an answer for why contractors would have trouble finding roofers, masons, and concrete finishers at a time during which so many are out of work? And why do American students continue to score low in math and science, while the best educational institutions, and the most state-of-the-art research facilities in the world reside in the United States? It appears the world makes the U.S. its destination of choice, while its own citizenry struggles to seize the opportunities in its own back yard.

 

 


[1] Carol M. Swain, Debating Immigration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 60.

[2] Betty W. Su, “The U.S. Economy to 2016: Slower Growth as Boomers Begin to Retire,” Monthly Labor Review 130, no. 11 (2007): 13, accessed December 2, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2007/11/contents.htm.

[3] Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 118.

[4] Arlene Dohm and Lynn Schniper, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2016,”Monthly Labor Review 103, no. 11 (2007): 33, accessed 2012.

[5] Sorens and Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger, 119

[6] Ed Pilkington, “Kansas Prepares for Clash of Wills over Future of Unauthorised Immigrants,” The Guardian, February 2, 2012, section goes here, accessed December 3, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/02/kansas-prepares-clash-unauthorised-migrants.

[7] Testimony the Committee on Judiciary, United States Senate (2006) (testimony of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York).

[8] My research revealed numerous branches of business supporting this claim. In the interest of space, a brief list would include; food services, tailoring, art, alternative medicine, exercise, and non-traditional education, just to name a few.

[9] “US Venture Capitalists Investing in Immigrant Businesses,” US Venture Capitalists Investing in Immigrant Businesses, 2006, accessed December 05, 2012, http://www.workpermit.com/news/2006_11_27/us/immigrant_business_venture_capital.htm

Kevin Glenn

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Dr. Kevin D. Glenn is a native of Central Florida, calling Auburndale his hometown (go Bloodhounds!). Kevin is a pastor with more than 23 years of church ministry experience, a contributor to local and national religious news outlets, a consultant to churches seeking healthy growth, and author of, Hand Over Fist: An Invitation to Christ-Centered Civility. Kevin is a graduate of Trinity College of Florida, Fuller Theological Seminary, and George Fox University, where he earned the Doctor of Ministry degree under the mentorship of Dr. Leonard Sweet. His hobbies include playing drums and guitar, fishing and being a fanatical Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his wife of 21 years and their two children

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