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Labor Daze


Friday, August 31, 2012

Lately, the numbers have been repeated so often that many know the figures off the top of their heads: 23 million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed.

When a nation’s economy suffers for an extended period of time, fingers begin to point. And all too often, those fingers begin to point at immigrants. Immigrants in the U.S., whether here legally or otherwise, are often presumed to be taking jobs away from native born Americans and living the good life. With Labor Day upon us, it’s worth taking a few moments to put the wellbeing of immigrant workers in the U.S. in perspective before rushing to judgment.

As Bloomberg Businessweek magazine pointed out last year in a piece titled “Why Americans Won’t Do Dirty Jobs,” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/why-americans-wont-do-dirty-jobs-11092011.html) there are countless thousands of jobs in agricultural fields, food plants, steel mills, and other industries that go unfilled because many Americans have become too soft or lazy to fill them. Or worse, they feel such work is beneath them. But as immigrants who fill them know, these grueling jobs are stepping stones to help their families now, and such positions will enable them and their children to move on to bigger and better later on.

And what of other more sophisticated jobs in high-tech, computers, or medicine that educated immigrants supposedly take away from native-born Americans? It’s well known that there is a shortage of such Americans to fill these jobs. According to several estimates, there is a serious shortage of American graduates in science, technology, math and engineering, which has opened the door for immigrant workers to fill them.

As for the living conditions of immigrants, they are not necessarily all living the good life. In a few weeks, immigration advocates and integration experts will gather at the annual National Immigrant Integration Conference to discuss approaches to integrating America’s immigrants. In preparation for the event, the conference created an interesting infographic that compares immigrant workers with their native-born counterparts (http://www.integrationconference.org/storage/niic-2012/cpr-2012-updates/graphics/NIIC-Inforgraphic5-8_23.jpg). Among other findings, the infographic notes that 1) The typical immigrant earns 22% less per week than the typical native-born worker; and 2) Half of all immigrants are uninsured. Many of them, too, are clearly struggling.

So instead of casting blame and bitterness this Labor Day, let’s be thankful for the 18% of all small business owners who are immigrants. Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and these immigrant business owners are generating work for their native-born counterparts. Which proves once again that when immigrants work, Americans work.



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