Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Work Ethic or Something Else?

Today on All Things Considered, NPR ran a story about a restaurant owner in Illinois who say that his business has needed Mexican workers to fill out their work force since the mid-to-late 1990s.  From the report:

Larry Blankenbaker says that wages are not responsible for these changes in employment. Instead, he suspects a more complex and systemic problem is to blame: an eroding work ethic. For the first time in five years, he recently filled a cook's position with a native-born American. The new employee lasted only two weeks.

Our economy needs more immigrant labor than current lawful caps (and bureaucratic competence) allow. Larry Blankenbaker's experiences supports this view.

But I also think we need to be properly skeptical of the sorts of "work ethic" claims that Blankenbaker makes.  These same sorts of claims have been used to support discriminatory hiring practices throughout recent history.  They also obscure the degree to which bone-grinding poverty and uncertain legal status render individuals vulnerable to exploitation.  Jennifer Ludden's full report is fairly cognizant of these complexities, which are a necessary part of the very complicated immigration debate.



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