Thursday, May 16, 2013

Low skill immigrant guestworker report

Kevin Drum shares a great graphic on how low skill immigrants do the work Americans quite literally don't want to do. This is the fraction of workers remaining in agricultural jobs in months after starting:

 

As a proud American I'd like to make one suggestion against this telling a "lazy American" story and instead just telling a comparative advantage story (which I am more comfortable with!). The Mexican workers stay for almost twelve months. From the perspective of agriculture I find this interesting: they're obviously doing a lot more than just harvesting. Is it possible that Americans come on during the harvest season, when potentially higher wages are offered, and then leave for other opportunities outside the harvest season? That wouldn't be quite the same as just dropping the job, of course. It would be a fairly natural division of labor. The other prospect is that a lot of these are high school or college students picking up summer work.

I don't know, and perhaps there are details in the report. That just came to mind when I looked at it. But it's a really great graphic.

Migrants do all sorts of productive work here. It's ugly that otherwise respectable people think some migrants (usually high skill migrants) are more desirable than others. That should have been a mindset that we left in the past, but apparently it isn't.

9 comments:

  1. Obvious solution that doesn't involve repopulating your country with Mexicans: pay Americans more to work in the "jobs they don't want to do."

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    1. Well I'd say we should be a welcoming country generally, recognize that low skill Mexicans and high skill Indians (and high skill Mexicans and low skill Indians!) contribute to our society, and let the chips fall where they may.

      After all, no one needs to be doing this. We could mechanize more than we do too. Just because Mexican labor will do work American labor won't do doesn't mean we HAVE to have any labor doing it.

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  3. Many of the American workers are probably Hispanic, but unlike the Mexican workers (on captive H-2A visas), they are free to sell their labor to the highest bidder.

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    Replies
    1. This is a very sharp point - thanks. These visas often act like indentured servitude.

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  4. " low skill immigrants do the work Americans quite literally don't want to do."

    You really must qualify such statements. At least add, "for the wages being offered."

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    Replies
    1. Yes, agreed. In fact among economists I'd hope that's implicit. But this doesn't really get us as far as proponents might like it to. Exactly what do we do with that? You can either overpay American (in the sense of paying them more than their likely marginal product) or destroy the job (either through automation or outsourcing). Most people that chime in "for the wages being offered" aren't willing to admit that.

      One thing I like about my co-author Hal is that he's fairly straightforward about the fact that offshoring is a natural process, with benefits, and that we're free to not like aspects of it but it's unlikely we'll stop it.

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  5. "It's ugly that otherwise respectable people think some migrants (usually high skill migrants) are more desirable than others."

    I know some immigrants who are jerks. I on the other hand am a great guy. Clearly, I'm a more desirable immigrant than they are.

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    1. If Customs and Border Control could screen out the jerks I would definitely be a proponent of restricting immigration policy on that basis :)

      Alas, I'm not sure they're up to it!

      Delete

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