It is the Labor Market Stupid

January 5, 2014

Why Democrats will not address the real cause of income inequality.

I am hopeful that the public and our political class are coming to terms with income inequality in America and the harm it is doing to our economy and society.  At the same time, I am disappointed in the response by my party, the Democratic Party, to the overreaching economic issues of our time.

While raising the minimum wage would do more good than harm, simply raising the minimum wage would help too few people, too little, and could create inequities of its own.  More importantly, the minimum wage is a placebo, a distraction from the real labor market forces at work that is bringing the idea of America as a broad-based middle class national, to a close.

Our government over the last 30 years has pursued policies by way of trade agreements, cheap foreign labor embedded in the goods imported to the US and an immigration policy of non-enforcement to increase the supply of labor in the United States.  Globalization has been an abject failure for the American middle class.  When President Clinton supported NAFTA he sold out to a corporate establishment and took the Democratic Party’s labor market policy 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Increasing the supply of labor into the US market has had a predictable, and for some, the desired result.  While corporate profits are at record highs the value of labor in the market has been diminished to the point where a full-time job no longer provides a place in the middle class.

For a party that holds the moral high ground on so many important issues, it sickens me to see Democrats pandering to foreign nationals who have intentionally broken our immigration law in order to gain an electoral advantage, and to a corporate establishment that is willing to put short-term profits above the economic interest of their employees and their own customers.

It is my wish that the Democratic Party will set aside the interest of foreign nationals and big campaign contributors and return to their core values of supporting a strong and prosperous middle-class.

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Illegal Immigrant: Defending the Term

April 8, 2013

In the wake of the Associated Press decision to drop the use of “illegal Immigrant” from their Stylebook, I have reviewed my use of the language in this blog.  Here is my conclusion.

The term “illegal immigrant” may not be the perfect solution, as reasonable shorthand to refer to a foreign national present in the United States in violation of immigration laws, but it is far better than the alternative that is being provided: “undocumented immigrant”.

Jonathan Rosa, an assistant professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes that “immigrant” defines someone who is a legal permanent resident.

A group of 24 scholars, led by Rosa, put out a statement last week arguing that “illegal immigrant” should not be the preferred phrasing because it’s imprecise and frames the debate in narrow terms. “It is baffling to think that [The New York Times] would suggest ‘illegal immigrant’ is accurate and neutral,” Rosa said in an interview with ABC/Univision. “The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act defines immigrants as people who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, so “legal immigrant” is a redundant concept and ‘illegal immigrant’ is oxymoronic,” he noted. 1

By this reasoning, the term “undocumented immigrant” would imply that a person is legally present in the United States but for a missing piece of documentation.  This shorthand does not convey the full nature of a foreign national present in the United States in violation of immigration laws.

I would prefer the term “illegal alien”.  From a legal standpoint, it is more correct and it would end the confusion regarding the word “immigrant”.  Unfortunately, we have dropped the word “space” for the term “space alien” so in common usages “alien” refers to a creature from outer space.  I would concede that this renders that term dehumanized, not because it is technically incorrect, but because of our cultural vocabulary deficiency.  I have discontinued the use of the term “illegal alien”.

Key here though is not the word “immigrant” but the word “illegal”.  The movement pushing the term “undocumented “ to describe a person, or to discuss the body of persons in the United States in violation of US immigration law, is not about replacing an imperfect term, it is all about scrubbing the word “illegal” from the discussion.

So, why not “illegal immigrant”?  Some feel that the term “illegal immigrant” is offensive.   Advocates for “undocumented” say that groups have the right to self-identity.  I would agree that racial, ethnic groups have that right to self-identity and have the right to change that identifier as they see fit.  But illegal immigrants are not a racial or ethnic group.  An illegal immigrants’ only common element is their illegal presence in the United States.  I can understand that someone in the United States, in violation of immigration law or someone who cared about a person who is in violation of US immigration law, would be uncomfortable with the word “illegal”.  But can you maintain your journalistic integrity while backing away from a clear and powerful language because some are not comfortable with the clear meaning that it conveys?  Undocumented is less powerful, it is less offensive and it is also less clear.

The other objection to the term “illegal immigrant” suggests that a person cannot be “illegal” and we should only use “illegal” to describe an illegal action.  One common example given is that you would not call a jaywalker an “illegal walker”.

“If we talk about a child who skips school, we don’t say he’s an illegal student,” Santa Ana said in reference to truancy laws. “We call a person who crosses the street illegally a jaywalker, not an illegal walker.” Linguists George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson suggest in their 2006 paper “The Framing of Immigration”2

This reasoning fails to recognize the continuous nature of one’s immigration status or citizenship.  A jaywalker is only a jaywalker while they are crossing the street improperly.  An illegal immigrant is in a constant state of violation of US immigration law.

The New York Times style guide maintains that “undocumented” is a “euphemism”.  I agree with the assessment.  I hope that The New York Times will stand by that clear statement of journalistic principle.

Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas’ campaign to replace “illegal” with “undocumented”, which is largely responsible for the reassessment and change to the AP Stylebook, is not about clarity but about shifting the conversation away from the fact that millions of foreign nationals are present in the United States in violation of immigration laws.  Jose Antonio Vargas is making a moral argument that anyone should be able to become a United States Citizen.  He believes that the millions of illegal immigrants are not in fact illegal but have simply not yet received the legal recognition and legal documents to which they are morally entitled.

While discussing as a group of foreign nationals present in the United States in violation of immigration laws, I will continue to use the shorthand term “illegal immigrants” I feel it conveys, in the most direct way, the nature of their immigration status.

Individuals who are subject to immigration law enforcement action will be referred to as “alleged illegal immigrants”.

The subset of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children will be referred to, when the context of the story merits a deeper understanding of their immigration reality, as “Dreamers” or “children who were brought to the United States in violation of immigration law”.

This brings me full circle back to Jose Antonio Vargas.  Mr. Vargas would like us to call him an undocumented immigrant; someone who lacks a document to legitimize his legal status.   I cannot do that.  It just does not express the reality of his immigration status.  If Mr. Vargas is offended by my use of language, I can only say that I am offended by millions of foreign nationals who have knowingly, and with intent, disregarded the immigration laws of the United States of America.

1) http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/linguists-york-times-illegal-neutral-accurate/story?id=17366512#.UVzChVeRcxD

2) http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/linguists-york-times-illegal-neutral-accurate/story?id=17366512&page=2#.UV2SV1eRcxA


Farm Labor Organizer Says Immigration Reform Will Mean More Competition for Jobs

February 7, 2013

On channel 13abc’s Sunday morning public affairs show; Conklin & Company, Baldemar Velasquez, President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee stated that immigration reform would lead to more completion for jobs in the labor market as newly legalized agricultural workers seek out better year-round jobs.  This would leave a “void” of agricultural workers that would require a guest worker program to fill.

Mr. Velasquez said “So that people who get legalized in agriculture are going to find their ways in to more permanent employment in order to support their families 12 months of the year”

The full interview with Mr. Velasquez can be seen on the 13abc web site: http://www.13abc.com/story/16366357/conklin-and-company


A Worker for Every Job

January 27, 2013

Immigration Reform: The Decline of the Middle Class and American Geo-Political Power

There is a mindset that permeates economic and political thought in American, that every job deserves a willing worker, this notion as played out in our trade and immigration policy, if continued will lead to the end of the United States as a broad base middle class society and diminish our geopolitical power.

Over the last three decades, through liberalization of our trade and immigration policies, the United States has vastly increased the supply of labor in our domestic labor market. These policies, more than any other single factor, are the reason for the growing inequity, declining spending power of working families and inability of governments, at all levels, to match revenues with spending priorities.

Our labor markets are broken.  No one in power or influence seems willing or able to talk about our decline in terms of our labor market.  The balance between employment and the work force are critical to our economy, to the access of the “American Dream” and to our geopolitical power.

And yet our policy makers in Washington and in Business are moving forward with the greatest single expansion of our (legal) labor force in the history of our nation.  They are doing so without any discussion of the effect on our labor market, on inequity in our society, on the long term effect on our broader economy. All these consideration are being brushed aside by the desire of both parties to hold the office of President and by the desire of business to have a growing source of ready and cost effective labor.

Business intends to lower the cost of their labor, not by innovation or capital investment, but by simply planning to use access to a growing supply of labor as leverage in the market to place downward pressure on the wages and benefits of working American families. If we move forward with this immigration plan, millions of American families will be placed under even greater economic pressure. While no occupation or profession will be immune to this labor marker pressure, the sad fact is that the Americans who work the hardest and make the least will feel the biggest impact to this labor force expansion.

Wages are depressed in the United States because too many workers are chasing after too few jobs.  It really is just that simple.  You only need to look at the numbers of unemployment, the under employed, the number of workers without health care benefits, those without adequate retirement plans and the number of workers that have gone into retirement early or have simply left the labor market.  (The lack of retirement savings by the post baby boom generation is a ticking time bomb.)  We have dis-incentivized work and made work less accessible to millions of Americans

We currently have a highly subsidized labor market.  Governments, at all levels, have stepped in to make up the difference between what business pay in wages and benefits and what a family needs for their basic needs.  Food Stamps are just one example of a program meant as temporary bridge for those in poverty, which has become a permanent condition for the working poor. The fact that growing numbers of worker families do not have the income necessary to pay federal income tax speaks to the unsustainable nature of the current condition of our labor market.  The level of government subsidies of our labor market is absolute proof that our labor force has been expanded faster than the ability of our economy to provide quality employment.

As a nation we need to address our immigration policy in terms of a broader discussion of our labor market crisis, to do that we need to recognize some fundamental facts.  Government has a very real impact, through trade and immigration policy, on the size and health of our labor market.  Our federal government, despite an amnesty program in 1986, has simply refused to take any practical measure to enforce our immigration laws.

Businesses will always argue for an expansion of the labor market as a source of lower cost labor and, no matter how limited in their spending power, as consumers of their goods.

And we must dispel the myth of a labor shortage.  If every job in the United States has a willing worker no matter how low the pay, no matter how poor the working conditions or no matter how lacking of benefits, then there will be a continual downward pressure on American workers standards of living.  We continue to see the decline of the American middle class and a decline in American world power.

As a nation we need to get back to a place where workers have better choices.  We need a labor market where workers can turn their noses up at the lowest paying and least desirable jobs.  We need to be in a place where some jobs go begging for workers and some business models are unsustainable, and yes, even some businesses will fail because they are unable to attract a work force in a highly competitive labor market.

We cannot turn our backs on the market forces, the economic processes that made us a wealthy prosperous nation, a broad base middle class nation.  The future of the American Dream and of American world power depends on our ability to make rational long-term choices about the balance between the size of our labor force and employment opportunities.


Ohio Loses Political Power to Illegal Aliens

January 19, 2013

Ohio has lost a congressional seat and an Electoral College Vote (ECV) to a state with a large population of illegal aliens.  This shift in power is a consequence of our current understanding of the Article I Section 2 and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Under our current interpretation of the law, illegal aliens are counted for the purposes of apportionment.

If illegal aliens were not counted in last apportionment, Ohio would have lost only one congressional seat, not two.  Ohio is not the only state affected.  Based on an analysis done by Clark Bensen for his company Polidata the following states lost one congressional seat and one ECV from the inclusion of illegal aliens in the apportionment process: Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.  The big winner in this apportionment shift is California which picks up 5 seats and 5 ECV.  Texas gains 2 seats and 2 ECV. Florida and New York both gain one congressional seat and one ECV.

Chirs Weigant, in an article published by the Huffington Post, makes the point that in terms of the ratio of “persons” to House seats; counting illegal aliens does not really have much effect on your numerical relationship to your elected representatives.  When you talk about a number of approximately one House Representatives per 650,000 “persons” (in most states), the change in this ratio caused by counting illegal aliens say of 25,000 more “persons” per House seat, it is hard to imagine a measurable decline in any single voter’s political power.

But saying that political power is not a function of the ratio of the represented to representative does not prove that political power is not being affected by counting illegal aliens.  If political power is a function of alliances, based on regional, party affiliations and state delegations, than it is easy to see how counting illegal aliens does affect the balance of political power in the United States.  House seats and ECV have been shifted to solidly blue states of New York and California.  Florida enhances its power as an important swing state, while Ohio, another important swing state, has becomes, if only slightly, less important.

This shift of power caused by the counting of illegal aliens is hard to gauge and may even be inconsequential with regard to many of the issues facing our country, but on one issue; immigration the political effect is undeniable.  As house seats and ECV are being shifted to states with large illegal alien populations, it follows that political power is being shifted to states more politically sympathetic to the plight of illegal aliens.  This obvious fact gives illegal aliens some real measure of political power over the laws they are currently violating.

You might say that even in the case of California, which has 5 seats that are directly attributed to a constituency made up of an illegal alien population, that this is not a significant number of votes in a house with 435 members.  But because of the political and vague nature of reapportionment, there is a multiplier effect that needs to be considered.  If apportionment excludes illegal aliens or if a significant number of illegal aliens are persuaded to leave the state of California before that last census, it would set off a round of house district of musical-chairs in which any member of the California house delegation could find themselves without a home district and without a seat in the US House of Representatives. So, in a very real sense, illegal aliens in California are an important constituency for every house member of the California delegation.  It should also not be forgotten that the distribution of federal dollars is based on census data and apportionment.

Without getting to the tortured history of how the constitution has handled citizenship, apportionment and voter rights, I find it hard to believe that the framers of the constitution or the purveyors of the 14th Amendment could have anticipated the current large scale and wholesale disregard of our immigration law by foreign nationals residing in the United States.  I find it hard to believe that these law makers would have approved of any legal framework by which a constituency of illegal aliens residing in the US – in direct violation of our immigration laws -, would have any measure of political power to effect those same immigration laws.

The failure of our current political class to make any serious effort to address a legal framework that takes political power away from United States citizens in Ohio and hands it over to the foreign nationals present in the US, in violation of our immigration laws, is an example of the breakdown in the integrity of our political and democratic institutions.

See Chis Weigant post “Should The Census Count Illegal Immigrants”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-weigant/should-the-census-count-i_b_66897.html

See Clark Benses of Polidate Map of Congressional Districts without the incursion illegal aliens for the purposes of apportionment: http://www.polidata.org/comments/el06%5CSTCIT3CA.pdf


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