Are Immigrants taking American Jobs?

Immigration is a hot topic bracketed by views from the right and left that aren't predictable based on party affiliation.... maybe because the Hispanic vote has taken on such a high priority for the 2014 elections? From the Ag perspective, getting a sufficient supply of legal farm help has continued to be an increasingly difficult task forcing many farmers to use whatever help they can find. While the Wine Business is not as dire given the higher wage paid, you're foolish to think the current debate wont have any real impact here given the breadth of the discussion.

Some of the questions raised: Is it really fair to give a free pass to people who have ignored the laws of the State and are here illegally? Should you deport families whose children are born in the US and are citizens? Is it fair to taxpayers to be forced to educate illegal immigrants when our education system is in such a poor state? Is it fair to have Americans pay for illegal immigrant's medical expenses when they go to an emergency room? Are they taking jobs from Americans? You might think the jobs are low wage, but what about the high-paid jobs that are being filled by immigrants under the H1-B Visa program? Wouldn't Americans want those jobs? Under the Bill, estimates are that we will be granting up to 1.1 million illegal farm workers some measure of a legal status. Does that make sense?

Illegal Immigrants

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) authored a section in the proposed Immigration Bill that addresses the farmworker shortage specifically. She said she wanted to find a way to "create a professional class of skilled agricultural laborers." Under Feinstein’s proposal, undocumented workers who work at least 100 days over two years would be given an agricultural “Blue-Card.” Blue-Card holders would then need to work for an additional 500 days over five years, or 450 days over three years to get permanent residency. Getting that “Green-card” permanent status is not slam dunk under this plan. I'm a little confused how we are going to document, undocumented workers on the number of days they worked so we can qualify them but I'm sure someone here will let me know how that's going to work.

Low birth rates are a negative for any economy so in the US, we need immigrants to be a part of the system. In my thinking, there's not much difference between what our ancestors did in leaving their native lands to seek greater opportunity, versus what immigrant farm workers are doing today. In what is a uniquely American tradition they bring new cultures and ideas that renew the DNA of our Country's soul. At the same time, immigrants have always filled the unskilled and disagreeable jobs native born citizens would never take. Those immigrants have always started at the bottom of the job market, then hope their kids have a better future.

The truth is immigrants have always added to the economic vitality of our economy. Case in point: In every U.S. census from 1880 onward, immigrants accounted for a greater percentage of small business owners than natives. You are probably aware that small business creates more jobs than big business. Silicon Valley Bank is dominant in the Technology space and issues original content and reports on a variety of topics. In the SVB's Startup Outlook Report just released, I caught a really interesting stat: Over 50% of the present technology startups had as a founder, an immigrant. Those businesses aren't food trucks. Those technology businesses create high-value work for Americans. That's a job creation fact that is worth considering.

Of course there is another tradition that has always accompanied migrations to the US; some measure of distrust, and fear that immigrants are taking "our jobs." You find that negative tradition repeated in the immigration histories of the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese .... name your ancestor. Its another American tradition and its an ugly one as depicted in the historical political cartoon at left.

Building fences isn't the solution for this issue. We need farmworkers and a better process to allow them into the system. While we also need immediate improvements to the H1-B Visa program, the fact we aren't developing graduates with skills needed for those jobs is something that also has to be addressed. The atrocious state of our domestic education system is something we can control. Mark Zuckerberg addressed that in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post recently. The two situations - importing skilled labor and a failing education system are related.

Highly Skilled Immigrant Labor

The US now ranks below at least 20 other countries in achievement levels for our K-12 students measured by the International PISA test. It doesn't matter what discipline you examine: Language Arts, Mathematics, or Science. Plainly, we aren't helping our kids compete in a world labor market that includes immigrants. And if we want to create jobs, we need those immigrants who are creating more than half the new tech start ups. So limiting immigration of highly-skilled people isn't a solution as is often proposed. What would the US look like without allowing Einstein to immigrate? The solution is to find a way so our own schools can fix the deficit in qualified talent so we don't even need the H1-B law, and thus move our idea-based economy into the next Century providing opportunity for our own citizens.

The US used to have a lot of advantages that made up for the deficiency in talent and declining level of education. In the day, the majority of Americans could still get good manufacturing jobs and trade jobs without being excellent students. The problem now is jobs are increasingly global and knowledge based and manufacturing has relocated to other countries. When you can hire workers in China, Korea, Canada or Poland (all ahead of us in PISA) who can provide first and second line customer support to high tech companies, who can write software for game developers, who can read X-rays for US doctors, who can complete US tax returns for US corporations, who can design and build products for US technology companies, Americans are no longer guaranteed a job because of their relatively poor academic preparation.


One Solution for Helping Education

In talking last week to Rick Jones and Chuck McMinn, they described one encouraging initiative that is demonstrating a real chance of succeeding and expanding throughout the US; NapaLearns.  The Foundation started with diagnosis of the issue - comparing attitudes about learning between successful countries and the US. The results? The citizens of almost every other country ahead of us internationally view education as an investment in their future.  In the US, we have come to view education as an an expense and just like all our other governmental expenses it is one that needs to be controlled and minimized. In most of these other countries future teachers are recruited out of the top 10% of their graduating classes and have to pass a medical boards type of test to become teachers. In the US, the average teacher graduates in the bottom 1/3rd of their class. In most other countries teachers are viewed and paid as professionals like doctors or scientists. Not so in the US where we do not view or pay teachers nearly as well.

NapaLearns is focusing on how people learn and develop the skills needed in real life. They aren't bound to traditional teaching methods of memorizing facts and figures as has been the case for the past 200 years in education. By focusing on "doing" instead of memorizing, they find kids actually retain more. They also are developing critical problem solving skills using team-based platforms and mirroring the way companies solve complex real world problems. Implicit in that is evolved training and support for teachers as the most critical professional resource we have. Last, the learning process for each student is individualized to help them learn in their own style and on their own path. It is done so with up to date digital tools which include iPads for every student (that can't make textbook resellers too happy.) The Foundation has successfully beta-tested the approach and that is now ready for prime time and will be rolling this program out to several School Districts within the Napa Valley this next school year.

Are Immigrants Taking American Jobs?

Pulling it back to the title of the piece - Are Immigrant's taking US Jobs? The answer is no, but no for different reasons. With farmworkers, its a long proven fact current US natives wont do the kind of field work immigrants will willingly accept. The possibility that Senator Feinstein proposes in the Immigration Bill  - making it easier for immigrants to be less transient and have a path to citizenship will be good for the economy. As it relates to the high-paid jobs being filled with the H1-B visa program, the answer is no simply because we are no longer able to educate our children so they can compete with educated immigrants. Just building a wall or limiting immigrants wont solve that problem.
Sorry for the long post. I hope you held in there to read it. Take a look at the site if you are interested in helping there or seeing how your kids might benefit from the program.
What do you think?
  • Are immigrants taking our jobs?
  • Is it good policy to reward illegal immigrants with citizenship?
  • What will the legalization of 1.1M undocumented aliens do to the economy?
  • Are you siding with the proposed legislation and the path to citizenship?
  • Can we change the laws, limit the H1-B visas, and protect American jobs for our children?
  • Are the boarders less-safe by allowing undocumented workers to remain in the US?

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