Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The High Cost of Uneducated Immigrants

A recent article in The Arizona Republic revealed that "fewer than half" of Hispanics who immigranted to the US in recent years held the equivalent of a high school diploma.
"In the long run, an uneducated society is never beneficial," said Louis Olivas, an Arizona State University vice president.

But in the short run, if immigrants had higher levels of education and skills, they would no longer accept the menial jobs and low pay that mainstream America expects of them, Olivas and a national researcher each observed.
Unfortunately, Mr. Olivas demonstrates the same lack of understanding of economics that has left so many in Washington uninterested in dealing with the nation's immigration problems. It is exactly because these new immigrants rush to fill low skilled jobs that they represent a problem for the country. Why? First, because they inflict a drastic negative effect on the finances of lower class Americans by driving down wages for low-skilled jobs. There are only so many menial jobs available in the US economy. Prior to the influx of so many low-skilled immigrants - both legal and illegal - low skilled Americans could at least demand a livable wage for their efforts. However, when millions of low skilled immigrants, desperate for work at any wage sudden appear, the employment landscape is dramatically altered. Employers, be they companies or homeowners who want someone to mow the lawn, no longer need to compete with each other (by raising wages or benefits) to find workers; instead, workers now must compete for jobs (by accepting ever lower wages). In a country where so many in the lower class live on high interest credit cards, the erosion of good-paying jobs and predatory debt represents a long term timebomb that will do more to insure the creation of a permanent underclass than even the government's most ill-conceived welfare scheme.
The 52 percent non-graduation rate measured since 2000 was little changed from the 54 percent average recorded over more than three decades.

Whatever the cost-benefit equation, the low educational attainment of foreign-born Latinos is the largest factor holding Arizona and other immigration-intensive states below the national average in the percentage of residents 25 and older who have completed high school, analysis shows.

The study estimates that 84.4 percent of Arizona's residents in that age group have high school diplomas or GED certificates. That ranks the state 38th nationally, below the U.S. average of 85.2 percent.

Arizona still stands ahead of the nation's two most populous states, which have even higher numbers of Hispanic immigrants. California ranks 45th, with 81.3 percent having completed high school, while Texas, with 78.3 percent, is 51st in a count that includes the District of Columbia. The nation's highest score was Minnesota's 92.3 percent.
The lack of education also ensures that the new immigrants will be effectively blocked from improving their economic condition, unless they complete at least their high school degrees - at state cost, mostly. But since a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good jobs in the US - partly as a result of high immigrants, partly due to Washington's trade policies - immigrants seeking economic betterment will need to seek college degrees. State schools, heavily subsidized by the taxpayers will bear the brunt of any such trend. If such a trend ever materializes, that is.
Full-time workers who completed high school had a median income more than $9,000 a year higher than the $22,000 earned by non-graduates, according to the survey.

That point is not lost on 18-year-old west Phoenix resident Jesus Mungia, a native of Nogales, Sonora, who dropped out of high school just six weeks ago.

While doing odd jobs and day labor to help his mother, a housecleaner, support the family of five, he is planning to go back and at least work on an equivalency certificate, although he is skeptical about its benefits.

An older brother who completed high school "tells me all the time it's going to help me later on," Mungia said. "But then again, they (employers) aren't going to pay me $10 an hour just because I went to school."
Unfortunately, Mr. Mungia's experience is not uncommon among Hispanics living in the US.
The 8.7 million Hispanics 25 and older who are not U.S. citizens, whether they immigrated legally or illegally, have the lowest educational attainment of any group surveyed. Fully 60 percent had not completed high school, and 35 percent had no more than an eighth-grade education.

"I'm not surprised," Olivas said. "Those immigrants don't come here seeking education. They're seeking work." Eighth grade has long been the accepted cut-off point for school in families of limited means in Mexico, he said, and that nation only recently has begun emphasizing the need for a secondary education.

The study also calculated that among 3.7 million immigrant Hispanics who have become U.S. citizens, 40 percent have no diploma.
But even US-born Hispanics have a lackluster record of pursuing higher education.
While native-born Hispanics are more highly educated than immigrants, they remain, on average, well behind Whites, Blacks and Asians, according to the survey. No figures on Native Americans and smaller racial groups were provided.

Among people born in the United States, 25 percent of Hispanics have no high school diploma, compared with 19 percent of Blacks, 10 percent of Anglos, and 6 percent of Asians.

In a world where economic success increasingly depends on science and high technology, importing large number of uneducated immigrants - who generally remain uneducated even after living in the US for a longer period of time - is an policy that conveys no benefit to the US. In fact, it only imposes ever-escalating long-term costs.
An unappreciated component of that cost is clearly explained by Steve Sailer in a recent column.

One lesson of history since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago is that countries don't advance economically by importing unskilled workers to "do the jobs that natives won't do," but by substituting machines for human labor.

For example, because the Roman Empire exploited countless slaves conquered in foreign wars, it lacked incentives to increase labor efficiency through mechanization. Productivity never took off, and eventually the civilization collapsed into poverty.

In contrast, Britain, which, until the second half of the 20th Century, had far more emigrants than immigrants, had the right incentives for an Industrial Revolution.

As I pointed out here a year ago [Japanese Substitute Inventiveness for Immigration], the Japanese have become obsessed with the promise of robots.

In consumer high technology, Japan has not simply exceeded the US, it has left America in the proverbial dust. That's because the Japanese - loathe to admit foreigners to their soil - have compensated for a declining birth rate by increasing innovation and automation (see previous entry on Japan). Mr. Sailer notes:

In contrast, the U.S., although once famous for its commitment to higher productivity, has shown less interest in labor saving in recent years. It has focused instead on sending manufacturing jobs to China and white collar jobs to India, while importing millions of uneducated workers to perform rudimentary service jobs here.

For example, although previous generations of Americans had vastly increased the productivity of workers on Midwestern grain farms, efforts to mechanize California fruit and vegetable farms were largely abandoned, as VDARE.COM reported five (!) years ago, because immigrants were cheaper … to the corporate farmer, although not to the country.

In a world where science and high technology are the keys to economic success and national security, importing millions of unskilled, uneducated workers - most of whom will remain unskilled for the balance of their lives and whose children will fare little better in terms of educational attainment - does nothing to enhance America's economic standing. In fact, in the long term such a policy seems solely conceived to errode America's economic leadership by stifling innovation and creating a permanent (and probably resentful) underclass. The US needs to immediately reconsider and redraw its immigration policy with the goal of reducing legal immigration across the board - and restricting that immigration to high skilled immigrants - while eliminating illegal immigration altogether.


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