By Diana Hull, Ph.D., Santa Monica Daily News
March 8, 2007
While black history month provided a nice slice of time to recount the contributions of a community and honor those who made them, not as often discussed last month were the continuing hurdles to success.
One of the major obstacles now to decent wages and upward social mobility for blacks at the low end of the economic stratum is the size of the illegal immigrant community, willing to toil for less and tolerate substandard working and living conditions.
The impact of illegal immigration on the black community is a topic rarely articulated. Dr. Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington D.C., recently addressed this neglected topic as part of a wide-ranging talk on immigration issues with members of Californians for Population Stabilization in Santa Barbara.
It’s considered completely politically incorrect to talk of intergroup rivalry that “pits one community of color against another,” Steinlight said. Nonetheless, it’s tremendously important to have the discussion to understand our history and acknowledge how pervasive inter-ethnic conflict has been and the role it continues to play. “The fact is that the rising immigrant tide always hits those that occupy the lowest rungs of the ladder hardest,” according to Steinlight, “and a very large share of this group has always been and remains African- American.”
Mexico contributes both the largest number of illegal aliens and the legal immigrants to the United States, and a study from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that Mexicans account for virtually all of the negative immigration impact on low-skilled American workers. Another study from the National Research Council of the American Academy of Science reports that the cheap labor provided by illegal aliens and impoverished immigrants is responsible for a 44-percent decrease in wages from 1980 to 1994 for the poorest Americans. Yet another study found that for each 1-percent increase in the immigrant share of workers who had not finished high school, the wages for native workers performing the same work dropped by at least 7 percent. This huge influx of Latinos, driven by demands for cheap labor, is devastating blacks economically, according to Steinlight.
The statement is backed up by information from the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that immigration lowers wages and workforce participation by black men significantly. This is in a demographic already battered; unemployment rates for black men between the ages of 19 and 40 in urban centers are more than 50 percent.
The much-repeated line is that illegal aliens are doing the jobs Americans won’t do. Of course, what’s missing from that line is “at the rate illegals will work.” To illustrate that point, Steinlight noted that last year after a raid at a Crider Inc. facility in Stillmore, Georgia — which found that 75 percent of the Latino workers were illegal aliens — the poultry plant had to hire Americans for the jobs. These jobs were easily filled, predominantly by African- Americans. As a consequence of hiring Americans, hourly pay increased, and the company started offering free transportation to work, as well as providing a dormitory and shower facilities. This economic tug-of-war at the lowest rungs of the workforce is further charged with racist views of native-born blacks by recent immigrants, according to research conducted by Paula McClain. “Anger on the black street about Latino immigration is raw,” said Steinlight, who cites a variety of personal, anecdotal and survey-based date, including a multi-city survey of urban inequality indicating that African- Americans see themselves in a battle with both Latinos and Asians for economic opportunity.
Ultimately, the results of mass immigration of poor and uneducated workers either showcase or bury — depending on where one chooses to look — what Steinlight calls America’s “unfinished business.” The United States continues to be challenged by inequality and poverty, with generations of black men lost to the criminal justice system.
There is a moral obligation to American citizens to redress the situation and no commensurate one to Mexicans.