This workforce is being legalized at a time of unusual economic distress for the working class. Well into the post-2008 recovery, the country suffers from rates of labor participation at a 36 year low. Many jobs that were once full-time are, in part due to the Affordable Care Act, now part-time, and thus unable to support families. Finally there are increasingly few well-paying positions—including in industry—that don’t require some sort of post-college accreditation.
Sadly, the legalization of millions of new immigrants could make all these problems worse, particularly for Latinos already here and millions of African-Americans.
The President’s action on immigration requires a profound shift in economic policy, particularly in the large urban centers where most undocumented are clustered, to avoid creating a squeeze on scarce jobs and services. But Obama’s other big agenda—addressing climate change—has slowed the expansion of fossil fuel development.
Meanwhile, it’s the energy sector that creates precisely the kinds of high-paying blue collar jobs, averaging upwards of $100,000 annually, that immigrants might be eager to fill and could give low unskilled workers a foothold into the middle class.
Similarly, efforts by Obama’s allies at Federal agencies like HUD to encourage dense housing and discourage suburban growth means far less construction employment, one of the largest generators of good blue collar jobs and opportunities.
Ironically, the places where the cry for amnesty has been the loudest—New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago—also tend to be those places that have created the least opportunity for the urban poor. This is in part due to the fact that these areas have tended to de-industrialize the most rapidly, discourage fledgling grassroots businesses through high taxes, environmental and housing, regulations.
Whatever their noble intentions, these cities generally suffer the largest degree of income inequality, notes a recent Brookings study. In fact, according to an analysis by Mark Schill at the Praxis Strategy Group, African-American incomes in New York are barely half those of whites and, in San Francisco somewhat below half. In contrast, cities with broader economies like Dallas and Houston, have black populations earning sixty five percent of white incomes. Similarly, Latinos in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco do far worse, relative to incomes, than their Sunbelt counterparts, compared to whites.