Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Unskilled Immigration and Economic Statistics

Robert Samuelson ("The Real Economic Report Card") brings up a point that ought to be obvious but isn't made more often: unskilled immigration makes economic statistics such as poverty levels and the number of those without health insurance worse. It seems like common sense that if you import more poor people whose likely jobs (landscaper, busboy, non-union construction worker) usually don't include health insurance, you will end up with more poor, uninsured people in the country than you would otherwise. Perhaps the reason this point isn't made more often is that immigration is one area where there currently is no significant policy difference between the major party presidential candidates.

It makes some sense, from a political perspective (if not from an economic perspective), for Democrats to be in favor of increasing unskilled immigration. If unskilled immigrants become citizens, they are more likely to be net recipients of government benefits, and thus more likely to vote for the party that favors more progressive taxation and more generous spending on social services. Unskilled immigration makes less sense politically for Republicans, but it makes economic sense for certain Republican constituencies, e.g., the small business owners who hire the busboys, landscapers, etc. From the perspective of these small employers, the GOP offers the best of both worlds: support for cheap labor and support for pro-business policies such as lower taxes. Of course, over the longer term, it's hard to see how an embrace of unskilled immigration won't consign the GOP to permanent minority status, unless somehow these immigrants are never given a chance at citizenship, which seems unlikely.

The real estate bust, by drying up the demand for residential construction laborers, seems to have put this issue on the back burner for now, which helps John McCain, since his stance on immigration is one of the areas where he is against his base.


J K said...

"permanent minority status" is a possibility I'm suprised isn't brought up more. The underlying demographic trends are projected to continue regardless of the mainstream immigration policies (not that those policies are without impact). If I were a Republican I'd be worried about the future of the party after seeing the crowd of delegates at this convention. The party seems to be comprised exclusively of (presumably christian) whites over the age of 45. Already, it doesn't look like a cross-section of our country. In the near future that will no longer be a sustainable majority base.

IMO, Republicans need to think a lot more strategically for the long term and figure out a way to appeal to hispanics and other minority groups (and young people); and start to phase out the effective but unsustainable good ole boy "Southern Strategy" and nativist (ironically so, given the original inhabitants) rhetoric. They are good at giving people a lot of reasons to "be scared" of democrats but not so good at giving people a lot of reasons to vote republican. Who do we vote for, the Gambinos or the Genovese?

If I were a republican advisor, oh how differently I'd frame the same positions. For example, ditching the nativism and instead show outrage over the immigrants who are treated like slaves by a certain poultry company in my state and shady contractors who cover up fatalities on the job by literally throwing bodies in a ditch. In that way you can be as hardcore anti-immigration as you want and frame it in a way that will still be palatable to the future generations of 'naturalized' native american (hispanic) citizenry in our country.

DaveinHackensack said...


The RNC audience did look a little homogeneous, but the lack of diversity wasn't from a lack of trying. One area where Bush 43 can't be faulted is in his rather strenuous efforts at outreach and inclusion. He appointed more minorities to prominent cabinet positions than any president before him, and he has aggressively courted the Latino vote and the black vote (to however little effect).

The issue isn't race per se, but the reality that the GOP is the party primarily of business, entrepreneurs, and the "working rich" (as I call them: physicians, sales execs, etc.) -- and those who aspire to be part of one of those groups. African Americans are disproportionately represented among government employees, and tend to earn less than other groups. Latinos tend to earn less on average as well. For lower-income voters who don't aspire to entrepreneurial endeavors (whatever their race), government benefits are more important than taxes, since, due to the progressiveness of our tax code, they probably pay little in taxes anyway (e.g., the bottom 40% of earners in this country pay no net income taxes). For these voters the Democratic Party better represents their perceived economic interests.

As long as most blacks and Latinos fall into these categories, most of them will vote Democratic, no matter how many times the GOP runs black Senate candidates (as it did in Ohio and Maryland in '06) or appoints blacks and Latinos to high positions. McCain shares Bush's delusion that the majority of Latinos will vote Republican because of cultural issues.

Regarding immigration, it would make sense for us to have an immigration system similar to Australia's or Canada's -- one that gives preference to skilled immigrants who will punch above their weight economically.

J K said...

Well, the outreach is pretty cyclical, i.e. just around election time. I'm not saying that the (nominated) presidential candidates like Bush or McCain exploit nativism or xenophopia, but at the state and local levels the Republican party has used white identity populism successfully. That will work only as long as whites are a solid majority. Nobody likes to admit it, but the driving factor in politics (and much of human behavior) is tribalism.
That goes for any political party, its why people vote in "blocks" and why Hillary had so many supporters who didn't agree with her on much of anything. You'll find that entreprenurial and wealthy blacks and hispanics aren't much if any more likely to be republican than their lower income counterparts. I think this election cycle you only had Brownback, Paul and Tancredo reach out to the black community. The hispanics just had to be the punching bag of everyone except McCain, haha. Probably the only sincere one was Brownback (whose hero is John Brown), Tancredo was just trying to exploit raging black/hispanic tensions to help his fringe one-issue candidacy register in polls, and Paul was secretly thinking of various articles in his old newsletter and trying not to sweat bullets.

No matter what the supposed economic self interest of someone is, you're not going to get even entreprenurial investor-class minorities to vote for a party who at the local level (via 50+ year old white men in cowboy hats) calls their grandmother a "lazy welfare queen" or a "job stealing criminal". This is all assuming that the republican policies really do benefit the entreprenurial and investor class more than democratic policies, which is not an assumption I necessarily share but am not going to quibble about.

Anyways...I don't really care what the republican party does, their are plenty of valid reasons the party looks the way it does. Regardless of reasons, objectively its just not sustainable, and if I were a party planner I'd be thinking of a way to bring(or dupe) a minority group into the party. Either that or press for a multi-party system. Bush got 35% of the hispanic vote in 04 (when gay marriage was the en vougue scapegoat of the repubs) and at that time Republicans were really making inroads. But the next en vougue scapegoat was illegal immigration (which is a perfectly valid issue) and the contemptuous tone that was(is) struck by many in the party will be remembered by generations of Hispanics in much the same way the republicans chased blacks in droves from the party during the civil rights conflict. So factor in that whites will be a minority in a couple decades or sooner (+ probably nearly half of them will be liberal) plus 8 out of 10 blacks and hispanics will vote dem, and a picture emerges where Dems consistently win the national electorate with 60 - 70 percent of the vote. I'm not sympathetic with the right wing or republicans at all, but even that is scary to me, who wants ONE party to have all that power?

DaveinHackensack said...


I disagree about Bush's attitudes on race and diversity being "cyclical". He has had long and close (personal and political) relationships with Latinos (e.g., Alberto Gonzales) and blacks (e.g., Condi Rice). He also has a Latino sister-in-law and nephew.

Maybe things are different where you live, but I haven't seen any appeals to race in the local GOP here. This is a pretty diverse area, and I'd venture that there are plenty of New Jerseyans of East Asian and South Asian descent voting Republican, though, to be honest, I haven't seen the stats.

It's also worth bearing in mind that some non-white Republicans have been pretty popular among the base, e.g., J.C. Watts is a favorite guest of Sean Hannity*, Bobby Jindal is a rising star in the party (for good reason) and a favorite of Rush Limbaugh's, etc.

It is in Dems' interest, of course, to paint the GOP as a party of redneck racists, and nothing the GOP can do will prevent them from repeating those accusations.

*You'll appreciate this Onion classic re Hannity.

J K said...

No, I'm not talking about Bushes attitudes, but that of the Republican party. The party appears to reach out only during the time they get the most national attention. And its not just me pointing that out, but those like Steele and JC Watts themselves.
As I said, Bush/McCain don't exploit white identity politics on a national level (though Bush did in the 2000 primary...well his campaign did).

Bringing up the northeastern GOP such as that in NJ colors my point. The GOP is really a permanent minority up here, due to demographics. I'm in the northeast also, and the local GOP up here is much different than the GOP I see when I travel down to GA or TX. Unfortunately for them, the attitudes of some of their southern counterparts (mostly social 'good ole boy' convervatives) affect the public's perception of them.

When harold ford was running for the senate in TN he had to deal with a lot of race-stereotype-baiting from the state GOP, and even McCain back in 2000 had rumors spread about him in south carolina that he had an illegit black child (was really his adopted child from bangladesh). The portrayal of the GOP as a bunch of racist rednecks is certainly unfair, but there are a lot of those out there, especially in the southern bible belt area.

...All I'm really saying is that I don't see any way the GOP will attract a sizeable minority vote to offset the white population's decline in the US. But imo certain Indian and Oriental groups could certainly be brought in as you suggested...unfortunately for the GOP that's still a very small population and has its own problems which could make its traditional white base even smaller. Rove is right in that we are a center-right nation, however I speculate in a few years we'll be a center-left nation. To win nationally, the Dems have had to split up the GOP base (coalition of Wall street, Social conservatives, and half hearted libertarians who drank the campaign party Kool-aid) and peel off a sizeable portion of one of those groups. In the near future the GOP center-right coalition will be the minority and they will have to resort to trying to pull off chunks of the Dem coalition, which will be much harder, imo, due to identity politics (tribalism).

*Gotta love the Onion. lol