I love South Park. Parody on the ridiculous stuff that goes on every day. Most of the time the writers hit the target. And I laugh. There is an episode of South Park where the residents cry out about immigrants that “took ‘r jobs!!” And then they go on to “rabble rabble rabble” because they don’t know what else to do. And of course in the Republican debates, the illegal immigrant issue has arisen. But how big a problem is this really? And are these jobs Americans really want to do, or is the illegal immigrant market basically taken the bottom rung because today’s workers don’t want those jobs.
So first, what are those jobs? Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler at the Center for Immigration Studies analyzed the census data from 2010 and found there to be 472 “professions” that could be categorized. Of the 472 civilian occupations, only six would be categorized as being “majority immigrant (legal and illegal).” The six are:
- Personal appearance workers
- Sewing machine operators
- Garment manufacturing, and
- Agricultural occupations (2)
They note that these six occupations account for 1 percent of the total U.S. workforce and that even in those fields, native-born Americans still comprise 46 percent of workers even in these occupations. In high-immigrant occupations, 59 percent of the natives have no education beyond high school, compared to 31 percent of the rest of the labor force.
Many jobs often thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant (legal and illegal) are in fact majority native-born:
- Maids and housekeepers: 51 percent native-born
- Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 58 percent native-born
- Butchers and meat processors: 63 percent native-born
- Grounds maintenance workers: 64 percent native-born
- Construction laborers: 66 percent native-born
- Porters, bellhops, and concierges: 72 percent native-born
- Janitors: 73 percent native-born
There are 67 occupations in which 25 percent or more of workers are immigrants (legal and illegal). In these high-immigrant occupations, there are still 16.5 million natives — accounting for one out of eight natives in the labor force.
Illegal immigrants work mostly in construction, cleaning, maintenance, food service, garment manufacturing, and agricultural occupations. They found no occupations in the United States in which a majority of workers are illegal immigrants. Even in the overwhelming majority of workers even in these areas are native-born or legal immigrants.
So then the question really is this – are they taking jobs that Americans want to do? Historically the answer is no. Both the agricultural and garment industries have struggled to get native workers. The work is long, hard, and conditions difficult. If you have education, you can find a better, higher paying job. No American kids grows up wanting to pick beans or sew for a living. Immigrants have always been the source of labor. Plasterers are difficult to find when construction jobs are plentiful so that is the one exception to low paying jobs that no one wants to do. Construction has always looked for labor help and certain specialties. And there are not that many of these jobs in comparison to the others on the list. So for those 5 jobs the answer is no. Same goes for most of the next seven (Maids, housekeepers, janitors, bellmen, etc.). I should note that my great grandmother (an immigrant) cleaned houses, but made sure none of her kids would by making them get an education. Ditto for my uncle who was a janitor. Neither was well educated, but their kids were. And there kids were far better off economically.
So political rhetoric aside, the answer seems to be that immigrants do in fat take those jobs that we do not want to do that require less education. These jobs mostly pay minimum wage. The study notes that 59 percent of the natives have no education beyond high school, compared to 31 percent of the rest of the labor force. Get educated – get a job that pays better than minimum wage. Seems like I have heard that rhetoric as well.