PROBLEMS AND SYMPTOMS....

PROBLEMS AND SYMPTOMS. Brad Plumer makes the point on immigration driving down wages (by 7.4 percent) for high school dropouts that I've been ineloquently groping towards for the last few days, and does so pithily. Damn him.

Well, sure, that's true, but that's an argument for living wages, policies to promote full employment, and the expansion of basic rights to organize. Immigrants who can participate in and strengthen the labor movement in this country will help all workers, native or otherwise. Under the current regime, corporations can use immigration and "guest worker" policies to import a captive labor force, underpay them, and then drive down wages, which accounts for a good deal of the effect Krugman worries about.

And that's sort of the point. If you're concerned about wages, it would seem, given the reality of illegal immigration, that the answer is to render illegal workers legal, so they no longer have to hide from attention and can agitate for better wages and working conditions without fear of deportation. If you could carry out a two-pronged strategy of improving the labor laws, say, through card check, all the better. Eventually, if unions and other pressure organizations can force compensation and benefits upward, there'll be less of an incentive to hire workers who don't speak English, the market will begin favoring low-skilled but native born applicants in certain sectors, and the immigration flow will ebb as the available jobs wane (as has happened before).

The point, here as elsewhere, is that the relative value of illegal immigrants is a symptom of employer power that's abetted by their ability to hire second-class, criminalized workers. That, not the flow of immigrants, is what must be addressed. But, as usual, it's easier for the GOP to pick on and further persecute the lowly and voiceless than attack their corporate funders. Liberals, however, shouldn't take the bait.

--Ezra Klein

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