Although dominated lately by the uproar over comments about Mexican arrivals made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, America’s immigration debate will surely remain fueled powerfully by business claims of severe labor shortages. With industries ranging from fruit-picking to computer services allegedly desperate for help, numerous employers insist that the only fix is admitting ever more foreign workers into the U.S. economy. It’s lucky, then, that the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends staff has recently updated its estimates on where the nation’s current illegal immigrants work – because they expose the labor shortage claims as largely bogus.
Reaching this conclusion is easy: Just compare Pew’s findings on occupations with the largest share of illegals in their workforces with wage figures put out by the U.S. Labor Department. If a given group of workers has been enjoying wages rising faster than the economy-wide average, that’s a pretty good sign of a labor market that’s at least reasonably tight (though not necessarily suffering any kind of lasting shortage). If a given group of workers has experienced wage lag, chances are their employers aren’t exactly starved for employees. Otherwise, of course, they’d be offering much higher pay.
According to Pew, the broad groups that were most illegals-heavy as of 2012 were farming, fishing and forestry; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; construction and extraction; food preparation and serving; production; and transportation and material moving. No doubt none of these categories comes as a surprise. But here’s the funny thing: All of them have seen wages rising more slowly than the national average.
The Labor Department data used by Pew also reports constant dollar (pre-inflation) wages for these occupational groups (which are different from the industry groups whose wage figures I normally report on). They show that in May, 2009 (the available data closest to the start of the current economic recovery), economy-wide median wages were $15.95 per hour. By last May (the latest numbers), they had risen 7.15 percent before inflation, to $17.09. (You can look up the raw data yourself here and here.) Now here are the rates of increase for the illegals-heavy occupations:
>Farming, Fishing, and Forestry: +3.29 percent
>Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance: +4.09 percent
>Production: +5.83 percent
>Construction and Extraction: +6.76 percent
>Transportation and Material Moving: +5.50 percent
>Food Preparation and Serving: 3.49 percent
Even worse, the occupational group that features the highest share of illegal workers – that farming etc. sector – saw the most sluggish wage increases. And the building maintenance category, the second most illegals-intensive occupation, wasn’t much better. That’s the opposite of what you’d expect from mainstream economics, which would insist that the sector that used the greatest numbers of illegals should be that experiencing the most wage inflation.
Some Mainstream Media organizations reported on the Pew results on occupational concentrations of illegal immigrants. But despite the prominence of the labor shortage claims, I couldn’t find a single instance of any reporters examining these critically important wage trends. They and the pundits, moreover, have completely ignored their wage-depressing implications for native-born workers. It’s clearly more satisfying to parrot phony labor shortage claims intended to inflate the work force artificially, and pauperize masses of American citizens and legal residents further, Not to mention fulminating about Donald Trump.