Reihan Salam argues that low-skill immigration impacts US society differently now than a hundred years ago. Salam writes that the skills gap between low-skill immigrants and native-born American is wider now than in 1900 “and so this particular barrier to assimilation was much lower in that era.”
I want to look at it a little differently. For the last thirty years, real earnings for low-skill workers have been declining. This decline in earnings has coincided with reduced labor force participation and troubled family formation among this population. The disrupted family formation seems to weaken educational achievement among males raised in those disrupted families. Those in the labor force with less than a high school diploma have an unemployment rate of over eleven percent. I think a huge issue is the divergence in family formation and labor force participation (and social capital generally) that seems to be partly (though I suspect far from completely) driven by declining wages for low-skilled males. The impact of low-skill immigration on wages seems to be both real and modest, but this is not a case where we should be looking to make things worse. The US does not have a shortage of low-skill labor and our immigration system should not be built on expanding the labor pool in this sector of the economy. Though of course conservatives should not be looking out for the interests of low-skill workers only when it comes to immigration policy. We should have a health care and tax policy agenda also – to name just a couple of issues.