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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:

  • Plasterers,
  • 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.


Last week was one heckuva week for societal problems related to race relations.  Seems like someone turned over a rock and the 1950s crawled out.  We started with Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been using federal property (read our land) for grazing his cattle for 20 years without paying for it, said after the armed confrontation with federal officials, that “I wonder if Negros weren’t better off as slaves.”  But he says he is not a racist, but wow.  That’s right up there with Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Native Americans in his book 15 years ago. 

 Then we had newspaper columnist and right-wing wonk, Thomas Sowell, who is black, saying in a recent column that “you are poor because you don’t work.”  And it is your fault you don’t work.  In “higher income families, people work.”  So using that line of racist nonsense, given that minorities are disproportionately un- or under-employed, does Mr. Sowell really believe that it is really the choice of all of these people not to work?!  Could there be any other causal links like the lack of education, decaying infrastructure or the lack of local opportunities in their community that might just come into play? That’s like saying Detroit’s problem is not the lack of job opportunities, but the fact that no one wants to work in Detroit.  I think not.

The we have Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, who was taped making racists comments, then received a lifetime ban and multi-million dollar fine for his comments about minorities, and then, instead of apologizing, states that he wishes he’d just paid the woman who taped him off.  Huh?   Of course it is not the first time for Mr. Sterling who lost a case several years ago over his practices of renting property in LA, so I guess we should have expected it.

Of course there are those who argue these folks were simply misunderstood.  Maybe Mr. Sowell was just pandering to his fan base, but what does that say about his fan base that he can write a column that purports that “you are poor because you don’t work” because you don’t want to work and no one says anything?  He clearly appears to be besmirching the inner city minority population, but as I noted in a prior blog, rural America is significantly worse off economically than urban America.  Rural America is where health care suffers, the lack of health insurance is pervasive, income are lower and unemployment higher.  There are poor across all races, and in all settings.  And given his fan base is includes a lot of poor, white, rural people who aren’t making a lot of money or who can’t find jobs, he’s talking about you!

The Bundy comments stem from his standoff with federal officials over many years of not paying for grazing (like the rest of us could get away with that!).  He and those that came armed to his defense are more indicative of a larger, far-right, anti-government sentiment around the country that has persisted for years.  The west has a number of these groups (recall Ruby Ridge, Waco, Black Hawk helicopter-ists, etc.) that are basically anarchists that disagree with America as it is today.    All white.  But of course as we have seen in the Sudan, Rwanda, the middle east and throughout history, hate can come from all races and religions. All harboring hatred of others not like them.  Understanding why is more difficult, but the commonality seems to be that they all have the perception that the others are somehow treated differently, which allows them to move up the economic ladder faster or allows them to “game the system.”  The perception, which may be completely false, persists because it somehow justifies the actions of these people.

So given the comments of the past week, are we back in the 1950s?  Or 1870s?  How are we here in 2014?  Prejudice and hate were not wiped away magically by civil rights legislation, integration, communication and education alone, but really, does this type of attitude have a place in today’s world? If so why?  Hate has created trouble in the world for thousands of years.  Hate is a problem because hate is a means to distract people from real problems or to force your problems on others.  But in truth, psychologists will tell you that in most cases, the Haters tend to hate themselves, which is something we all need to remember.  Hate is developed because you cannot control a situation or someone else gets something you want.  Therefore it is that someone else’s fault, not yours.  It is easier when race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or other factors represent the “somebody else,” but the reality is haters hate themselves first, then project their hate onto others.  They need help. Professional help. Counseling.  Many of them. Even whole societies. They need to go get help for themselves and the rest of us. 

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