53 Million Hold Low-Wage Jobs
By Joe Guzzardi
The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program just released a study that casts serious doubt on President Trump’s insistence that the economy is improving, and that the employment market is strong.
Brookings’ findings confirm that working doesn’t necessarily translate into earning a decent wage. Despite record low 3.6 percent unemployment, the Brookings’ report, “Meet the Low-Wage Workforce,” shows that 53 million Americans – 44 percent of all workers age 18 to 64 – hold low-wage jobs, earn median hourly wages of $10.22 and have a $17,950 median annual income.
Brookings’ research revealed that low-wage workers are racially diverse: Fifty-two percent are white; 25 percent, Latino or Hispanic; 15 percent, African-American, and 5 percent, Asian American. Both Latino and black workers are overrepresented relative to their share of the total workforce, as are women who account for 54 percent of low-wage workers, higher than their 48 percent total workforce share.
Economic hardship is widespread among many Americans. Brookings found that 30 percent of low-wage workers live in families earning below 150 percent of the poverty line; 16 million low-wage workers get by on very low incomes – about $30,000 for a family of three and $36,000 for a family of four. Of low-wage workers, 26 percent, or 14 million people, are the only earners in their families, with $20,400 median family earnings and another 25 percent, or 13 million people, live in families in which all workers earn low wages.
“Meet the Low-Wage Workforce” exposes a national disgrace, and makes the U.S. immigration policy that brings in more than 1 million immigrants each year, and issues them lifetime valid work authorization documents, indefensible. No intelligent argument can be made that, in an era when so many Americans are underemployed, immigration should continue at the pace that has been maintained for decades. More immigration means an expanded workforce when what’s needed is a much tighter labor market. In order to keep pace with immigration-fueled population growth, the economy must add 150,000 jobs per month. But the October Bureau of Labor Statistics establishment survey showed that total nonfarm payroll employment increased by only 128,000 jobs.
Travel into the weeds to learn how hurtful the immigration status quo is to Americans. For every five new American workers who turns 18 and enter the job market, one work-authorized immigrant receives a Green Card. The guest or temporary worker inflow is also a major challenge that job-seeking Americans must overcome. Although the federal government doesn’t maintain exact statistics on annual guest worker totals, data suggests that between 750,000 and 1 million low-skilled and high-skilled foreign nationals arrive each year on employment-based visas. In 2016, the Congressional Research Service reported that “employment-based admission has more than doubled from just over 400,000 in FY1994 to over 1 million in FY2014,” but workers aren’t subject to any skill-based labor market tests which could affirm their potential contribution to the U.S. economy.
Finally, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 the civilian workforce included about 7.6 million illegal aliens, and another 1 milliondeferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status recipients were employed.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Congress, elites, the media, immigration advocates and, perhaps most threatening of all, the current Democratic presidential candidates – those who if elected might influence the federal government on the future of immigration – insist that the U.S. needs expanded immigration which means that, by extension, there will be continuously loose labor markets.
The important immigration questions have yet to be asked in Democratic debates. With the open borders which the candidates endorse, will there be jobs for new migrants without further displacement of American workers? Proposals to limit immigration to sustainable levels are invariably met with racism or xenophobia accusations. But citizens’ employment needs must come before foreign nationals’ interests, a priority that’s long overdue.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org