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Myth: Undocumented Americans Hurt The U.S. Economy

Myth: The Undocumented Take American Jobs and Depress Wages

The current 11-million Undocumented Americans are following a well-worn path tread by U.S. immigrants over the centuries. We’ve come for a better life and we’re willing to work for it, even if it means taking low-paying jobs and working several of these jobs to survive.

The American economy has thrived on cheap immigrant labor, even slave labor, since its inception. The U.S. didn’t become the most formidable economy in the world by building walls and discouraging willing workers. Cheap labor is how businesses get started and expand. It’s the reason consumers can find such a panoply of lower-priced products and afford to eat in neighborhood restaurants. It’s the reason there are neighborhood restaurants.

We, the Undocumented, still believe we can work our way up in this country, and as we do so, we’re helping small businesses expand and create more jobs, more opportunities for everyone. We’re not here to take American jobs; we’re here to contribute, earn our way and make the country better. If it means we start at the bottom, then that’s what we do.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, a nonpartisan group, research indicates there is little connection between immigrant labor and unemployment rates of native-born workers. Here in the United States, two trends — better education and an aging population — have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing or available to take low-paying jobs. Between 2000 and 2005, the supply of low-skilled American-born workers slipped by 1.8 million. To fill the void, employers often hire immigrant workers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that Americans fill more than 91% of all jobs in this country, contrary to the myth that one in five workers is foreign. Lesser-skilled migrant workers don’t negatively impact U.S. workers without a college education. In fact, these foreign-born workers create new jobs for Americans. Regarding the fear that Americans with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills are being displaced by foreign workers, employment studies reveal that there are not enough native-born workers to fill these positions.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit that advocates immigration reduction, looking at the Census Bureau data collected from 2009 to 2011, reports that of 472 separate occupations, there were only six, or 1% of the workforce, that were majority-immigrant occupations and even in these six, native-born Americans held 46% of the jobs. The Center also found no U.S. occupations in which a majority of workers are Undocumented.

Part of the myth about immigrants taking American jobs is the belief that we also depress wages. Eduardo Porto’s 2012 New York Times’ article on “Immigration and American Jobs” cited the research of Giovanni Peri. This UC Davis economist estimated that the wave of immigrants, who entered the U.S. from 1990 to 2007, increased national income per worker by a yearly average of $5,400 in 2007 dollars. He also concluded that this influx had a small positive impact on the average wage of American workers, by lifting the overall economy. If immigrants hurt anyone, they hurt previously arriving immigrants, with whom they most directly compete in the labor market.

America needs its 8.1-million (5.1% of the labor force) Undocumented workers (2012). If we were taken from the economy, the loss would translate into millions of lost consumers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers. The economy would actually lose jobs. Second, native-born workers and Undocumented workers tend to possess different skills that often complement one another. If many of us are willing to start at lower-skilled and poorer-paying jobs, then sectors of the economy like agriculture and housing can afford to expand creating more middle-class positions. Unfortunately, as long as this workforce is Undocumented, we can be exploited by employers.

It’s one thing to take advantage of us in the workplace because we’re Undocumented. It’s quite another to demean our humanity and denigrate our contribution to the nation’s day-to-day economy and to its future dominance.  We are working our way up, becoming better educated, opening our own businesses and taking our rightful place in a labor force that must grow and possess more high-level skills to keep the country competitive. We will be an essential part of this workforce as immigrants have always been. It’s time the nation’s politicians recognized this and unleashed the potential of our 11-million dreamers, innovators and future leaders.

Research Sources: New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office

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