Portrait of an immigrant from Africa

May 18th, 2017

Claude Rawagenje is one of the 1.7 million sub-Saharan Africans in the U.S. He coaches immigrants on managing household finances in Portland, Maine. He meets every year with fellow Banyamulenges, from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “There are five thousand of us in America,” he told me. “At our annual national meetings we talk about how to get a job and work your way up, how to be a success without losing your culture, avoiding mistakes such as touching a co-worker.”

The sub-Saharan African immigrant population roughly doubled every decade between 1980 (starting at 130,000) and 2010 and in 2015 reached 1,700.000. Over 80% come from sub-Saharan Africa.

The largest sources are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya. Roughly half come from English-speaking countries. New York City, Washington, DC, and Atlanta metropolitan accounted for about 27% of sub-Saharan Africans in the United States.

39 percent of sub-Saharan Africans (ages 25 and over) had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29% of the total foreign-born population and 31% of the U.S.-born population. Nigerians are 57% with college degrees. They are much higher high in the labor force (75%) than the native born population (62%).

They sent $5 billion in remittances in 2003. In 2015, over $5.5 billion was sent from the U.S. to Nigeria alone. American remittances accounted for 31% of GDP in Liberia and 22% in the Gambia.

Source of data: Migration Policy Institute

Snapshot of immigration in Washington State

May 14th, 2017

An address on immigration I made last week to a Washington audience was an opportunity to make a brief profile of immigration in that state.

Washington provides insight into the role of immigration where job growth prevails. Between 1995 and today, the total population grew from 5.3 million to 7 million. During this period, the immigrant percentage of the state’s population doubled.

From 1900, long view

Over the past 100 plus years, the state tracked the rise, fall and then rise of immigrants. Between 1900 and 1910, the state’s entire population more than doubled, while the foreign-born share already high rose to 22%. Then, the immigrant share declined to a low point of 6% in 1970. It rose again after 1990, much faster by far than in-migration from other states, to about 15% today.

(See “Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State 1900 – 2012” for state by state profiles.)

Compare that with California, which since 1990 has had a 20%-plus foreign born share except for the middle decades in the 20th Century, and which went Democratic in the 1990s in response to an anti-immigrant push by Republicans. Compare with Tennessee, whose foreign born population was under 1% for the first half of the 20th Century and is now 5%.

In 1910, 123,890 Scandinavians accounted for 48% of the state’s 256,000 foreign born residents, which also included Germans and Asians.

Since 1990, hourglass growth

The very early 1900s was a time of very high foreign-born presence in extractive and west coast states such as Colorado, Montana, Washington and California, and in eastern states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island (here).

Since the 1990s, immigrant workers rose in the typical hourglass way, but more so. At the top level (computer and healthcare workers, etc.), for every ten native-born college graduates moving into greater Seattle, five foreign-born college graduates move in. Compare with a 20 to 10 ratio of foreign-born college grads to native-born grads in Silicon Valley and a 2 to 10 ratio in Knoxville, Tennessee.

At the lower side of the hourglass are farm, construction, building maintenance, kitchen and other jobholders. Between 1990 and 2000, native working age people with less than a high school education declined by 3.8% while the foreign born working age persons with less than a high school education rose by 89%.

Unauthorized workers (almost entirely low formal education) in the state grew from under 50,000 to over 200,000 where it stands today.

Between 1990 and 2004, Washington was one of a few states in which working age foreign-born people increased while the native-born working age people increased, both significantly. It was one of eight states with at least a 20% growth in the native working age population, close to 100% or higher growth in the foreign-born workforce population, and an above average labor force participation rate. This means, in short, that on balance immigrants did not challenge native-born workers.

Wars for workers

The foreign-born working population with low formal education is stable to trending down, due primarily to better economic conditions in Mexico, and shrinking of the difference between Mexican wages and low paying jobs in the U.S. Farmers are engaged in a “wage war” in the wine producing counties in Washington, I was told.

And the Seattle Times reported in January of a “war for tech talent… Computer and mathematical occupations may sound like they belong to the tech world alone, but like business services they can pop up in different industries, from retail to health care. According to projections, jobs in computer and mathematical occupations in King County are expected to grow by 3.5 percent in 2017.”

The City of Seattle has an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

The New American Economy has published a profile of the contribution of immigration to the Washington economy. The profile captures the hourglass profile of the immigrant workforce: “While foreign-born workers make up 16.8 percent of the state’s employed population, they account for 63.0 percent of the type of agricultural worker that includes those picking crops by hand. They also make up 45.1 percent of those working as software developers for applications and systems software, and 30.8 percent of dishwashers. Immigrants also play a role caring for the aging population: They made up 30.4 percent of personal care aides in 2014.”

(Thanks to Patrick Koenig, Washington Self-Employers Association)

Poll on perceptions of threats to American culture

May 12th, 2017

Analysis by PRRI and The Atlantic, based on surveys conducted before and after the 2016 election, reveals the degree to which white working-class Americans feel threatened culturally. Social scientist Robert Putnam reported as much in 2006. Cultural diversity is intimately related to immigrant populations, which spread out across the country after about 1990.

Survey findings:

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of white working-class Americans believe American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.

Nearly half (48%) of white working-class Americans say, “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. In contrast, fewer than half (44%) of white college-educated Americans express this view.

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans—along with a majority (55%) of the public overall—believe the U.S. is in danger of losing its culture and identity.

More than six in ten (62%) white working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture, while fewer than one-third (30%) disagree. The views of white college-educated Americans are nearly reversed, with a majority (54%) expressing the view that immigrants strengthen the country.

Note on Robert Putnam’s survey on diversity: Around the year 2000, Robert Putnam studied the social impact of ethnic diversity. The results shocked him so much that he withheld reporting them for years. Fighting his personal pro-immigrant leanings, he concluded, “immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.” He describes social capital as a collective capacity to spark civic participation and trust, keys to building democracy. In his 2006 lecture, “E Pluribus Unum,” Putnam warned, “The more ethnically diverse a residential context is, the less we trust …” He said the more racially diverse a community, the less trust exists among neighbors. Even trust within groups is lower in more diverse settings.

Where are they?

In no region do white working-class Americans comprise a larger proportion of the population than in the Midwest, where they account for more than four in ten (43%) Americans. Roughly three in ten Americans living in the Northeast (30%) and South (31%) are white working class, while only roughly one-quarter (26%) of those living in the West are white working class.

White working-class Americans also make up a disproportionate number of those living in rural areas. Just over half (51%) of Americans living in rural areas are white working class, compared to about one in five (22%) of those living in America’s urban areas.

Trump’s economic growth is dependent on immigrants

May 7th, 2017

Economic growth simply stated comes from people who work, and work more productively.

Improving the economy implies more workers — either immigrants,  or inducing native-born workers to re-enter the workforce — and productivity gains.  Trump’s economic forecast implies almost doubling the growth in productivity from the current level of about 1.7% a year.

Assuming a doubling of productivity — starting now — fails, then its rosy forecast of 3% annual gross national product growth vs the current trend of 1.7% is utterly dependent on immigrant workers, perhaps even more than the government projects, if productivity fails to soar.  Here is why.

Between 1995 and 2005, half of the growth in the country’s workforce came from immigrants. That is far higher than in past modern decades Between 2005 and 2015, the workforce growth was 36% from off-spring of native born parents, 18% from off-spring of immigrants, and 46% from immigrants. Between 2015 and 2015, the off-spring of native-born parents will show a absolute decline in the workforce of 4.3 million, while off-spring of immigrants will grow by 5.7 million and immigrants by 3.5 million. No immigrants means a decline in total workers.

See Jason Furman and Pew Research Center.

 

Trump’s 3 Pronged Immigration strategy

May 6th, 2017

The Trump Administration is making immigration its most important and ambitious domestic initiative. It seeks to lead in a once every 40 to 50 year cycle in the nation’s immigration policy.

As backdrop, America has long wavered between restrictive and permissive approaches to foreign migration. The nation waxed permissive from the 1880s until an explicitly racist restrictive act in 1924. Lyndon Johnson extended the civil rights movement by engineering with liberal Democrats a permissive reform in 1965. Since then, Washington has been paralyzed from expressing goals for immigration that come down to practical solutions to questions about goals, labor expectations, and enforcement.

Note below how in each of the three strategies, the administration will be leveraging and taking credit for some trends in place for years.

Prong One: changing expectations on unauthorized residency

Most published commentary, such as here, focuses on the crackdown on illegal migration and the 11 million unauthorized persons in the U.S. Trump’s people showed quickly that it absorbed the lessons from President Obama on the executive power over immigration. Obama protected classes of unauthorized persons; Trump applies his discretion to bar admittance, and to expand deportations. Obama deported millions, but his deportations fitted in the narratives about him of neither supporters nor opponents. The quickly emerging narrative of this administration is more coherent, sharply defined, relentless.

On March 20, President Trump said in a Louisville speech that illegal immigration at the southern border declined by 61 percent, “and we haven’t started.”

Illegal entries from Mexico have been declining for years.  A decline in the number of 15 – 40 year old Mexican males in the U.S. has been baked into demographics of Mexico for some time.

Prong Two: Domestic jobs

Expect executive branch-sponsored reports on how foreign workers combined with unfair foreign competition stymie the careers of native-born Americans.

American employers of low wage workers were already feeling the pinch of tight labor markets. Restaurants have a hard time finding cooks. Farms considering more mechanization, for instance to pick fruit. Meat processing plants are looking at automatic deboning machinery.

Computer engineers are in great demand, with salaries well over $100K. Google pays $177K for a recent bachelors graduate from a high ranked college.

A recent paper estimates that H-1B workers depress the wages all computer workers, and prompt native born workers to go into other fields. But the study also said that the program results in a larger total supply of computer workers. As information technology spurs all sectors, so grow the entire economy and the workforce.

Prong Three: Ethnocentrism.

The Administration nurtures a message that foreigners appear to fail in what I call civic culture – looking and acting like native Americans in public. Its focus on Muslims is a good example. Ironically, Muslim immigrants on the whole are very middle class, more American than Americans in their surveyed views.  As early as 2000, Robert Putnam of Harvard noted that rising immigration levels led to lower perceptions of civic culture.

I see the administration as selecting immigration as its signature policy through the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.

Fear among vulnerable immigrants

May 5th, 2017

Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire have small unauthorized and legally vulnerable immigrants. Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, an award winning reporter for the Valley News which covers two dozen towns in both states, profiles some of these individuals who are working.

He writes about “black market limbo” in which they are caught. Tamara, 43, raises three children in the Upper Valley. Born in English-speaking Africa, she holds a nursing degree, and recently earned $19 an hour in a healthcare job. Today she earns below the minimum wage cleaning houses. She over-stayed her visa, which an estimated 400,000 did in 2015 and which some two thirds of all 11 million unauthorized persons did.

She arrived with husband and two children in 2003 legally, went in, out and in legal status and got a registered nursing degree in 2010, divorced her abusive husband in 2013, and as of now is out of legal status. One of her children has been accepted at the University of Chicago. The Department of Homeland Security has voided any special protections for her that the Obama Administration introduced.

Hongoltz-Hetling reported earlier on the anxiety of unauthorized dairy workers in Vermont. He says that Migrant Justice, a Vermont-based advocacy group, estimates that 1,500 undocumented migrants now make up a majority of the Vermont farm workforce, producing dairy products for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and others.

A Vermont woman married a 21 year-old Mexican worker, then living in the South and with legal status. They are now in the late 20s, with a daughter. The husband and father works on a New Hampshire dairy farm and lost his legal status.

Dairy farms in the region survive in part by hiring Hispanic workers, many of them illegally here.

The husband was arrested in 2012 for illegal status, spent three months in detention, got out and eventually obtained a green card. But the card could be taken away, per Homeland Security, if he does so much as have a moving violation when driving.

In early May Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy filed legislation to protect unauthorized farm workers. Per the Vermont Digger, under their Agricultural Worker Program Act, foreign farmworkers who have worked in the United States in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years may earn lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would become eligible to adjust to legal permanent residency and obtain their green cards.

Sold for Parts: Pro Publica’s report on chicken processing workers

May 1st, 2017

Pro Publica investigated the employment practices of chicken processing company Case Farms. The report, “Sold for Parts,” was released today, co-published by Pro Publica and The New Yorker.

Case Farms has four plants in North Carolina and Ohio. Michael Grabell visited its facilities and interviewed current and former workers. He visited villages in the Guatemalan state of Huehuetenango finding former Case Farms workers.

Here are some passages:

Finding its first Hispanic workers….

Scrambling to find workers in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Case Farms sent recruiters across the country to hire Latino workers. Many of the new arrivals found the conditions intolerable. In one instance, the recruiters hired dozens of migrant farmworkers from border towns in Texas, offering them bus tickets to Ohio and housing once there. When workers arrived, they encountered a situation that a federal judge later called “wretched and loathsome.”

Vulnerable workforces…

Case hired Guatemalan workers who were afraid to go back to Guatemala due to horrific threats of violence. “Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You’re going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can’t afford that. You just can’t do it. But Guatemalans can’t go back home. They’re here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot.”

[In late 2016] OSHA determined that the company’s line speeds and work flow were so hazardous to workers’ hands and arms that it should “investigate and change immediately” nearly all the positions on the line. As the company fights the fines, it finds new ways to keep labor costs down. For a time, after the Guatemalan workers began to organize, Case Farms recruited Burmese refugees. Then it turned to ethnic Nepalis expelled from Bhutan, who today make up nearly 35 percent of the company’s employees in Ohio. “It’s an industry that targets the most vulnerable group of workers and brings them in,” Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s former senior policy adviser, told me. “And when one group gets too powerful and stands up for their rights they figure out who’s even more vulnerable and move them in.”

“It’s an industry that targets the most vulnerable group of workers and brings them in,” Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s former senior policy adviser, told me. “And when one group gets too powerful and stands up for their rights they figure out who’s even more vulnerable and move them in.”

Frederick Douglass argues for the Chinese immigrant and “composite nationality”

April 23rd, 2017

In a speech in Boston in 1869, Frederick Douglass argued that Chinese should be allowed to immigrate and become citizens. He presented his vision of composite nationality under conditions of “perfect human equality.”

Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibited Chinese labor migration to the United States and barred Chinese residents from obtaining U.S. citizenship. The law was repealed in 1943. (see here.)

From his remarks:

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth.

The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs.

Our Republic is itself a strong argument in favor of composite nationality. It is no disparagement to Americans of English descent, to affirm that much of the wealth, leisure, culture, refinement and civilization of the country are due to the arm of the negro and the muscle of the Irishman. Without these and the wealth created by their sturdy toil, English civilization had still lingered this side of the Alleghanies, and the wolf still be howling on their summits.

The grand right of migration and the great wisdom of incorporating foreign elements into our body politic, are founded not upon any genealogical or archeological theory, however learned, but upon the broad fact of a common human nature.

Man is man, the world over. This fact is affirmed and admitted in any effort to deny it. The sentiments we exhibit, whether love or hate, confidence or fear, respect or contempt, will always imply a like humanity.

If our action shall be in accordance with the principles of justice, liberty, and perfect human equality, no eloquence can adequately portray the greatness and grandeur of the future

Trump admin targets temporary skilled foreign workers

April 22nd, 2017

The Trump administration issued a “Buy American, hire American” Executive Order with a provision on temporary skilled workers:

“In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

Temporary skilled worker H-1B visas (for 3 years, can be extended to 6) are awarded to 85,000 persons a year. There are over 500,000 H-1B visa holders in the U.S. Most work in computer jobs. The new visas for this year are awarded by lottery with an April 11 deadline. 199,000 applications were submitted.

Brookings in 2013 said that “Detailed data on H-1B wages by occupation suggests that the H-1B program helps to fill a shortage of workers in STEM occupations.

Job openings harder to fill

“Labor market experts interpret the duration of a job opening as an indicator that qualified candidates are hard to find. Using 2011 job openings data from the Conference Board for the 100 largest metropolitan areas, we find that 43% of job vacancies for STEM occupations with H-1B requests are reposted after one month of advertising, implying that they are unfilled. By contrast 38% of vacancies in non-STEM occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree go unfilled after one month, and just 32% of job postings for all non-STEM occupations.

Visa holders are paid more

“H-1B visa holders earn more than comparable native-born workers. H-1B workers are paid more than U.S. native-born workers with a bachelor’s degree generally ($76,356 versus $67,301 in 2010) and even within the same occupation and industry for workers with similar experience.”

We need an agency to identify occupational shortages.

The failed 2013 immigration reform act included a provision for a Bureau on Immigration and Labor Market Research, which could “collect better information from employers about job openings, including occupations, the number of qualified applicants, the number of interviews conducted, and the length of time it takes to fill the job. Likewise, the bureau should also consider how demand and supply play out in regional or metropolitan area labor markets, since job search and recruitment often happen locally.”

Low wage Mexican immigration on the way down

April 18th, 2017

One of the most dramatic, if not the most dramatic, change in immigration trends in the U.S. in the past ten years has been a very large decline in immigrant young working age Hispanic men, especially Mexicans. These workers flooded into the country, mid 1980s – mid 2000s, as American employers (farming, meat processing, residential construction in particular) hired as many as they could find.

The causes of the decline include what some researcher have noted is a kind of natural law of mass immigration, where over time supply and demand are for decades vibrant and then the market becomes saturated, plus the comparative demographics of the sending and receiving countries change. The birth rate in Mexico has been declining. The variance has lessened between wages for the median wage earner in Mexico and the wages near the bottom of the American job market. The Great Recession killed off the demand for workers in the residential housing market. And border as well as inland immigration law enforcement has toughened.

The Brookings Institution summarized the change as follows:

Over the 1990 to 2007 period, the number of working-age immigrants with 12 or fewer years of schooling more than doubled, rising from 8.5 million to 17.8 million individuals. Since the Great Recession, however, U.S. borders have become a far less active place when it comes to net inflows of low-skilled labor from abroad. The undocumented population declined in absolute terms between 2007 and 2014, falling on net by an annual average of 160,000 individuals, while the overall population of low-skilled immigrants of working age remained stable.