We Delude, You Decide
Do pols actually believe the press clips on immigration?
Clinton's Achievement vs. DeLong's Pie in the Sky: Mark Kleiman blogs:
Brad DeLong is right: the biggest beneficiaries of immigration are immigrants, and those benefits ought to count. If we want to help low-income Americans, there are better ways to do it than restricting immigration. [Emph. added]
Oh yeah? Name one. ... Actually, DeLong names five:
... more progressive tax brackets, more public provision of services, a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit, a higher minimum wage, a greater focus on education.
I would suggest that if DeLong actually thinks changes in these policies will dramatically improve the situation of low-income Americans, especially unskilled African American men--not to mention help reestablish the black family, which is the real goal--he is dreaming. 1) A "focus on education" hasn't helped those hanging out on the streetcorners and selling drugs in the past. They are not big successes at school! 2) Progressive tax brackets only help if you actually earn money, which these people aren't doing. 3) The Earned Income Tax Credit does send cash to low income earners, but again you need to earn at least some money to get it. And it's already pretty big. We probably can't increase it much higher** without running into cost and disincentive problems when the credit is phased out in the mid-income ranges (i.e. workers will end up losing--in phases-out EITC payments--a good chunk of any extra dollars they earn). 4) A higher minimum wage will help, but if you raise it too much it becomes a job-killer. 5) As for "public provision of services," it's not clear what DeLong means. Suppose we had national health care. Would that change the lives of the estimated 72 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's who are "unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated"? Will they stop being scrubs hanging out on the corner--or will they be scrubs hanging out on the corner who get free medical care?
The one thing that seems to have been a huge boon for unskilled African Americans is the tight low-wage labor market of the Clinton years--especially during Clinton's second term. It's hard to give a high school dropout a college education. But if you give him an unskilled job paying $10 an hour he's got a shot at forming a family (with another worker). And in the process he's integrated into the mainstream, working culture. It's even better than "provision of services"!
A tight labor market is especially important for young black men because they tend to be at the end of the employment queue. You have to let employers run through all the groups they prefer--and illegal immigrants are one of them--before they will reach out to ghetto kids. That's the sociological reality. If we let in lots of unskilled immigrants, however deserving, they will jump ahead in the queue.
I'd always thought the tight 90s labor market, and the opportunity it provided for those at the bottom, wasone of the glories of the Clinton years that Democratic economists like DeLong celebrate and wish to replicate. Maybe Democrats could run an economy so hot it would provide employment for millions of decent, hard-working immigrants from Latin America and Korea and for any left-behind unskilled Americans. That would be nice! But until we achieve that miracle, we will have to think about restricting the influx of competing low-wage workers from abroad.
**--Update: I agree with several emailers who argue the current EITC for childless individuals--i.e. including most of the "scrubs" I'm talking about--can and should be expanded. Right now it only adds about $400 a year. Let's say we tripled that amount and lowered the age of eligibility (now 25). That would still be a marginal change when compared with limiting the low wage competition. It's much more important for unskilled young men to hear, "They're hiring right now over at Home Depot for $10 an hour" than "If you manage to find an employer willing to hire you rather than a hungrier, more motivated immigrant and then you apply to the IRS you'll someday get a few hundred dollars back." If everyone had long time horizons we wouldn't have a ghetto-poverty problem. 12:54 P.M.
Most Idiotic Rumor of the Week: Page Six's"buzz" that Vanity Fair'sGraydon Carter might replace Brad Grey as head of the Paramount movie studio. And I will be replacing Katie Couric on the Today show. 11:39 A.M.
Maybe! Another home-brewed sports car: The Yes!11:16 A.M.
Photograph of Judith Miller on the Slate home page by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.