The Jobs Nobody Will Pay Americans to Do

A blog about business and economics.
May 3 2013 12:20 PM

The Jobs Nobody Will Pay Americans to Do

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Grapes.

Photo by JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/GettyImages

Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler have a useful report for the restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies debunking the notion that there are such things as jobs Americans won't do, arguing that only six out of 472 government-specified occupations are actually majority-immigrant. What's more, they tell us that 51 percent of maids and housekeepers are native-born, as are fully 58 percent of taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

I really always do recommend reading CIS reports, because they don't play fast and loose with the facts and consequently end up underscoring how weak the case for restriction is.

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For example, granting that it's not literally the case that Americans will categorically refuse to work as seasonal farm laborers, what is it that we think will happen if all the immigrant farm workers vanish? Very few Americans, after all, are willing to work as seasonal farm laborers at currently prevailing wages. So the wages for fruit picking go up. But there's not some God-given quantity of land that needs to be dedicated to agricultural pursuits and then land owners just pay whatever it costs to cultivate the land. Most land isn't cultivated at all. Increase the cost structure and we'll grow less fruit domestically and import more from abroad, worsening America's terms of trade and broadly lowering incomes across the country. Building a thriving professional basketball industry based in part on highly paid foreign labor is good for America, and building a thriving agricultural sector based in part on low-paid foreign labor is also good for America. Recall that even though the specific people doing the farm work have bad jobs doing hard labor for little pay, they themselves would certainly not benefit from being kicked out of the country. The way to help the immigrants is to make the terms of immigration more generous. Restriction will raise the incomes of some farm workers, lower the incomes of other farm workers, and lower the income of everyone else.

The maids are a similar issue. CIS tells us half the maids in America are immigrants. If they all vanished tomorrow, the primary impact is going to be fewer maids, not higher wages, as middle-class people (primarily women) shift their time budget away from leisure and higher-value work and into housecleaning. Underuse of women's professional skills is already a problem in America (PDF), and exiling foreign domestic workers would exacerbate it while devastating the living standards of the exiled workers themselves.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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