In an inflationary economy, everyone benefits from more workers
American workers are being treated with a measure of respect by employers for the first time in twenty years. I think that's fantastic, and well overdue. I think a lot of the fracturing of American politics in recent years has resulted from deteriorating prospects for the working class, men in particular. Now you can earn $100k driving a truck, and your employer will take seriously improving work conditions as well.
During the underemployment years of the 2010s in particular, workers were subjected to endless criticism and condescension. They're unskilled, they only want to play video games, or they're just plain lazy. America's "job creators" could do with similar treatment. They're bad at workforce management, they've under-invested in automation, or just have mediocre products that aren't viable in a tight labour market.
I love immigration and would support for any pro-immigration bill conceivable in the American political system. But given that most Americans don't share my views, I think many people will be extremely reluctant to let employers out of their current predicament with a change in immigration law.
You mention meatpacking as an industry where workers are subjected to low pay, long hours, and terrible working conditions. Yet you hold it up as a case where employers have ~tried everything~ to attract workers. This is obviously wrong. Even in a tight labor supply market, employers can attract workers in one of two ways: 1) by boosting the monetary benefits of employment or 2) by boosting the non-monetary benefits of employment.
The meatpacking industry has barely tried raising wages. The article you link to references $3,000 signing bonuses being offered to new employees. This sounds great on its face, but few rational people will be enticed by this offer. A $3,000 bonus divided by 52 weeks amounts to a pre-tax pay increase of about $58 per week. The article also states that meatpackers work 72-hour weeks. So a $3,000 bonus amounts to a pay increase of about $0.80 per hour, with that bonus lapsing after one year. You'd be hard-pressed to call this a generous compensation package.
The meatpacking industry has also done little to improve working conditions since the pandemic. When your industry has an on-the-job injury rate 3 times higher than a standard American workplace, the most effective compensation is creating a safer workplace. To do that, employers could try such novel tactics as 'reducing shift lengths', 'offering more time off', and 'providing health insurance'. These non-monetary benefits would undoubtedly help entice workers to the meatpacking industry.
I have no sympathy for employers who cry 'labor supply shortage' while maintaining terrible working conditions. People shouldn't have to spend 72 hours per week risking life and limb for $15 per hour. And although we *could* import immigrants to do these jobs, it's not clear why they should be subjected to this treatment either.
Bit of an issue here: how does one ensure that immigrants take the crappy jobs you want them to instead of trickling into cities and underbidding longer-established residents to do “pleasant work?”
What you want, at the end of the day, is only filled by a migrant labor visa program associated with maybe 3-4 sectors. If we wanted to future-proof it, allow the Department of Labor to certify new ones based on objective criteria in the future.
As for immigration, I’m disinclined to take away labor’s bargaining leverage quite so soon. I think you’ve leapt to being overly concerned about inflationary pressures that should resolve themselves as spending transitions towards services.
My original hope, for years, was that we could increase skilled immigration to maintain dynamism while increasing bargaining power at the bottom. Unfortunately, while it might be possible to make the argument, rationally, that we need more skilled and professional immigrants… no one will accept it.
The working and middle class right is already primed to reject immigration; that nativist sentiment will hardly let them accept immigration by those who will be *above* them in the economic pecking order from day one. The professional class left, regardless of what cosmopolitan language they couch it in, want cheap construction workers and domestic help, not competition to push down their wage structures.
I think we will, in time, get back to the business of mass immigration, but a decade or two of slower immigration and faster assimilation may be what allows us to regain the social solidarity of the 40’s and 50’s and push through much-needed reforms.
OK, I'm lost.
Once upon a time I learned that immigration has little to no impact on native-born wages while making the nation richer. Great!
But now we're in a situation where workers feel much freer to quit their jobs and look for something better and wages for lower-income workers are growing faster than inflation, and that's a perfect time to look towards increased immigration to fight this emerging threat of inflation which has allowed . . . workers to feel much freer to quit their jobs and look for something better and for wages for lower-income workers to grow faster than inflation.
If indeed we're having spot shortages in field workers and meatpackers, sure, OK.
But for me the real lesson is don't offer what is a wise *long-term* approach (One Billion Americans!) as some kind of solution for short-term challenges in the economy.
I agree with all of this. I just added several thousand dollars to GDP with a small house repair job using, I'm pretty sure, an all undocumented-worker crew after trying for weeks to find a regular contractor to do the work. It was a win for both parties and for the life of me I can't see how it is any skin off the back of my FB friends who are anti-immigration.
However, this is not where the big gains from immigration reside. I want, over time, to attract millions of engineers, and doctors, and nurses, and researchers, and skilled workers of all sorts, and students who will stay after their degrees. That's the way we get our total GDP back up above China's while improving our own standard of living. [Note to Republicans: these are are your upwardly mobile natural constituency.]
Here is my thought - I’ve noticed customer service declining as the balance of power between employees and customers has changed. I think that’s a very good thing. I think a lot of the political rancor has come from people feeling weak and ignored by society. They now have more confidence and feel more respected.
I really don’t think increasing the number of people competing for jobs is a good idea. The management class should always operate terrified their employees are going to walk out.
Couple of points about farm trade and productivity.
First, the US is part of NAFTA or USMCA or whatever. Mexican veg and soft fruit exports to the US are booming. Lots of investment (by US agribusiness) in Mexico and other countries. Tomato production moved to Mexico over the last few decades. Chances are good salad items will too. The avocado industry is slowly migrating to points south. This is all pretty efficient.
Second, famers can invest in capital equipment to produce more with less labor. I watch the crews harvesting the strawberry beds in Monterey, all neatly laid out on the ground. Back-breaking work and all credit to the workers who do it. But you can also grow strawberries hydroponically in greenhouses on raised tables. You'll get more strawberries. I see this done in developing economies where labor costs are ten times lower than around Salinas. Happy to be put right, but doesn't look as if anything has changed in Salinas production methods in fifty years.
Maybe take out the strawberries and plant 100% zucchini? Sorting agri production requires many variables - not least micro-climate and water availability - but I am not sure trying to perpetuate production in one place by providing cheaper than market labor is a wise intervention.
You end up with highly concentrated supply chains that undercut local businesses based on access to - and management of - cheap labor. Like the meat-packing supply chain. Which I think we can all agree is not a desirable place to end up.
I will never stop slowly boring the hard board of Matt's support for admitting low-skilled immigrants on a permanent basis.
There's a lot to be said for bringing in low-skilled *temporary* labor, as long as it's confined to designated sectors of the economy where the goal is to keep wages below what Americans would accept: so far below that no native workers are being displaced and the gain to employers/consumers is maximized. This is how Hong Kong and Singapore supply themselves with affordable domestic servants, and it would make sense for seasonal agricultural work as well.
(I'd add that Singapore does one thing Hong Kong doesn't: they impose a lifetime two-year cap on any individual foreign maid working in country, so that they don't put down roots. It may seem harsh but one beneficial side effect is that *more people* in poor Asian countries benefit from the opportunity to earn higher incomes, though each for a shorter period of time. I'd like to see temporary agricultural visas granted on the same basis and restricted to the neediest source countries: Haiti rather than Mexico.)
If we're talking about immigration with a path to citizenship, then I'll go back to my old tune. Bringing in a strawberry picker is beneficial but bringing in a scientist is *more* beneficial, so if there's a practical constraint on the total volume of permanent legal immigration then you should only admit the highly skilled.
A plan for more immigrants to ease labor shortages might help Democrats split business interests from Trumpy Republicans but isn't likely to help Democrats with more downscale Americans. So, a further step in the transformation of the Democratic Party into the party of the well-to-do, managerial and professional classes, ie., what the Republican Party used to be.
I was going to write something cynical like "Great idea, Matt. Too bad there's a not a snowball's chance in hell something along these lines gets done!" but then I thought I'd better do a quick search before spouting off. I mean, maybe something *will* be done for all I know. And sure enough the NY Times published an article detailing the administration's apparently rather serious plans for undoing the damage Trump did to US immigration programs, plus some improvements and initiatives beyond the repair work. Don't know the status of these plans, but here's to hoping...
I think there is room for a bipartisan grand bargain on immigration, specifically because there is an extant policy proposal which would be an obvious, highly visible concession to Republicans without compromising Democrats' key aims. Basically, I think you could pass a bipartisan bill that:
-expands legal immigration
-provides a pathway to citizenship for people in the country without documentation
-limits the powers of the president to unilaterally make changes to immigration policy, in a way that would forbid both future Muslim Bans and future DACA/DAPAs (the latter being the only way I think Republicans would accept the former)
-sets new legally binding guidance on Border Patrol treatment of minors and families, while increasing their funding to make sure it can be implemented even during a surge of attempted border crossings or asylum claims
-funds some other additional enforcement that actually works, focused on preventing people from overstaying visas, and
-funds Trump's wall. (I'm concerned about issues of eminent domain, Native lands, and wildlife corridors, but the point is not to actually build the whole wall, which is a dumbass idea; the point is to build enough for Republicans to be able to *say* they built the wall, and almost every Republican knows it.)
Republicans won't sign on unless the bill visibly and publicly owns the libs, which this would clearly do. Democrats care enough about achieving the comprehensive immigration reform aims they've been hoping for for the entire 20th century that they'll swallow it. In fact this would be effective triangulation, because moderate Republicans who vote for the bargain would be able to say in a GOP primary that they voted to fulfill Trump's chief campaign promise and made Squad members furious, and maybe in future GOP presidential primaries, say "I voted for the wall, and you didn't". Once Republicans retake Congress they won't schedule votes on immigration reform at all, so now is the time to do this.
Moderate Dems might have read Shor and be of the opinion that touching immigration at all is a loser for them, but here's the thing: you can't say that out loud to voters, who expect you to be working on every issue that's in the news. If you do a bipartisan bill that nauseates leftists, you can sell it to your district/state as a border enforcement/security bill.
Trump handed immigration doves a huge, huge gift on this one: a visible way to make a concession that doesn't compromise any of our core goals, because it's a bullshit policy that does nothing. We'd be crazy not to take it.
Reducing American inequality is more important than cheap strawberries. MY ignores the single best effect of the recent inflation: wages for low paid jobs have increased much faster than those for better jobs. We are reducing inequality for the first time in decades, and MY is more worried about holding the line on berry prices than paying our neediest workers a living wage.
Redistribution is unlikely to correct the inequality immigration brings to our shores. Will middle class taxpayers care about good public schools when the students are mostly immigrants? How popular would SCHIP become if it is seen as a subsidy for the foreign born? Who would want to pay child allowances that go overwhelmingly to “those people.” For 170 years, ethnic jealousies have stunted working class solidarity. MY gives us a fine formula for continuing that.
I'm not opposed to increasing legal immigration, as long as it's paired with reforms that decrease illegal immigration.
We should have control over our borders, and be able to adjust the number and skill set of people coming here.
In addition, levels of immigration should be slow enough to allow time for assimilation.
It seems like there's a strong consensus that allowing more immigration is good but very little legislative appetite for it... obviously the right has gone fully anti-immigration and the pro-immigration corporate types are now marginalized in the party. Meanwhile on the left there's hardly any focus on increasing legal immigration... A sad state of affairs.
Democrats are kind of in a bind here -- it feels like whenever whenever there are big surges in asylum seekers, it becomes really hard to push through other kinds of immigration.
(It'd help if the Chamber of Commerce or whatever would bother to push Republicans more to support increases in the number of visas we give out.)
how will we build enough houses for everyone