By Joe Guzzardi
September 30, 2015
In President Obama’s 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, he wrote: “The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century (and) threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”
Then-Senator Obama was referring to the roughly one million work authorized legal immigrants who have been coming to the U.S. annually for the last three decades, along with more than hundreds of thousands of guest workers each year. Obama’s prediction that an equally dramatic and sustained increase in the overseas labor pool growth would keep wages depressed was spot on.
During the decade that included the year Obama’s book was published, 2000-2009, incomes fell 5 percent and wages, as they had been for years, remained stagnant. Real wages during those ten years were worse than during the Great Depression.
Perhaps Obama wrote his book in anticipation of a presidential bid and to give discouraged Americans hope for the future. But his keen insights into high immigration’s adverse effect on the American job market seem to have vanished since he moved into the White House. His administration’s policies have consistently undermined U.S. workers through various administrative programs like deferred action and prosecutorial discretion which rewarded illegal immigrants with employment authorization documents. Today eight million Americans are unemployed and 92 million are detached from the labor force.
Many believe that the extent to which Obama’s policies have opened the door to foreign labor, displacing American workers and college graduates hoping to enter the work force, has effectively destroyed the middle class.
Here’s a summary. In addition to the one million work permits given to new legal immigrants, the State Department also issues about 750,000 guest worker visas to high and low-tech workers. Approximately 500,000 illegal immigrants enter, most work, and few are deported. In all, that’s more than two million immigrant workers each year that will compete with, among others, the four million American youths and high school graduates who turn 18 and another 800,000 who receive college diplomas.
As if the huge influx of overseas labor isn’t bad enough for struggling Americans, the Obama administration expanded the terms governing the little known Optional Practical Training (OPT). The Bush administration first allowed foreign students enrolled in U.S. universities to work for 12 months without having to apply for a visa. Training can be pre or post-completion of studies. Bush then extended the time period to 29 months. Historically, students holding F-1 visas could not work. Under OTP, however, students can work full time when school isn’t in session, a factor that contributes to depressed teen employment which averaged over 16 percent in 2015.
Obama, while maintaining the 29-month OPT time limit, increased the total of eligible fields of study to 400 of the Census Bureau’s recognized civilian occupations. Daniel Costa, the Economic Policy Institute’s immigration policy analyst said that he is concerned that none of the eligible fields were determined based on demonstrated labor market shortages, and that there are no wage protections for OPT workers, which allows employers to undercut wages paid to U.S. workers. Critics consider OPT a backdoor way to get around the 85,000 H-1B visa cap.
To the employer, an “optional practical” trainee is cheap labor that he can take advantage of for more than two years until a new crop of college graduates become available. The middle-aged American is out of luck.
Despite his encouraging words in 2006 that better days lay ahead, Obama has dashed the hopes of millions of trusting Americans’ through his willingness to let U.S. jobs go to foreign nationals.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]