Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Will Economy Undo Reform Efforts?

Kevin Johnson reported earlier on the effects of the economy on migration. Tyche Hendricks of the San Francisco Chronicle writes on the effect of the economy on the prospects for reform:

The nation's economic crisis could make it tough for President-elect Barack Obama to deliver on his pledge to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, some analysts predict.

With unemployment rising, foreign workers are less welcome, say immigration restrictionists, who have vowed to oppose offering legal status to the nation's estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.

But as the presidential transition goes into high gear, Democratic political insiders still believe that immigration reform has a good chance. Until a comprehensive bill is introduced in Congress, Obama's pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, will play a key role in refocusing the way the government handles immigration.

"Clearly the economy is job No. 1 for the new administration," said Frank Sharry, director of America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group. "But we fully expect that by the end of year one, that they're going to take a hard run at immigration reform."

The weak economy - the unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent in November, its highest level in 15 years - combined with increased immigration enforcement, appears to be discouraging illegal immigrants from entering the country and impelling others to head home. Demographer Jeff Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center recently estimated that 11.9 million illegal immigrants are living in the United States now, down from an estimated 12.4 million a year earlier. The U.S. Border Patrol reported making 700,000 arrests over the past year, down from 1.1 million two years prior. Click here for the rest of the story.


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It is an unfortunate reality that the current economic crisis stems in large measure from the largely right wing concept that the most complex economic problems can be solved with the most simplistic or market based solutions. In terms of how these folks conflate those concepts with our undocumented immigrant problem, they tend to think in the most elementary terms; in other words, let's just replace the "illegals" with displaced legal workers.

I call this the 2-1=1 concept. While mathematically correct, the concept of replacing an employed but undocumented worker with a legal unemployed worker only works well on a grammar school chalkboard. There is nothing simple about our current 21st century economic crisis. ( Note: One of my Kids is in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. He's one of those 800 Math SAT kids. I'm telling you that the mathematical formulas and calculations that he has to solve in his economics classes would cross Einstein's eyes!).

In the real world, our nation's business's have been downsizing right and left, and are hoping to survive, (not all of them will), this economic crisis by keeping only their most efficient, well trained, and cost effective employees. The idea of replacing the remaining finely honed and most productive work force with untrained new hires, (that usually take 6-12 months to train), would be devastating to those businesses, just at the time when they need to be at the absolute top of their game to survive at all.

The simplistic notion that we should train "down" the displaced workers to do the jobs of existing workers is just wrong. We will end up with twice the amount of workers trained to do the old fashioned - old economy jobs that we will have at the end of this crisis, yet we will have no workers trained to do the higher end new jobs that we will need to compete in the global market going forward.

Let the existing workers do their thing, legal or not, and train the displaced workers to do the new jobs that this opportunity will create toward the end of this decade, (in the next 24 months), or to be entrepreneurs. This way, when we get on our feet, we will have full employment, do that sooner then we otherwise could, and we will have an economy with better overall jobs than we have now.

Instead of 2-1=1, (or less), we could have 1+1=2, (or more).

Posted by: Robert Gittelson | Dec 10, 2008 1:09:25 PM

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