Jobs, Precious Jobs!

By William Buchanan
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 24, Number 2 (Winter 2014)
Issue theme: "Whatever happened to the American Dream?"
http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc_24_2/tsc_24_2_buchanan.shtml




Despite high unemployment, the Senate and the House Democrats support doubling immigration and providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 to 20 million U.S. residents for whom the “rule of law” is merely an obstacle. They push legal and illegal immigration like there’s an unfulfilled need, a shortage of workers. But jobs are scarce — and may disappear!


Hey, diddle diddle

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: the real purpose of immigration is to diddle with the labor market on behalf of employers. Want proof? Throughout the Great Recession and indolent recovery, and in callous disregard for American workers, legal immigration has remained in excess of one million per year and non-immigrant workers are admitted as per usual. Alien workers, and the employers who hire them, are protected by inflexible laws while American workers have to deal with the labor market.

Fiscal   Legal Immigrants

Year    (green cards)1

2008    1,107,126

2009    1,130,818

2010    1,042,025

2011    1,052,040

2012    1,031,631

 

Offshoring

IBM, according to a recent report,2 now employs more workers in India than in the U.S., pays them $17,000 per year, and, no doubt, dangles a possible “L” visa before their eyes. But offshoring is old sombrero. The American job market has been in decline for 40 years.

The labor participation rate, which peaked at 67.3 in 2000, has gradually declined to 63.2, a level not seen since Jimmy Carter was in the White House. A report in the New York Times3 claims men’s median wage has dropped 19 percent since 1970. Women’s median wage stalled in 2000 and has since declined by 6 percent. Government statistics show wages decline significantly over time for workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. Lower taxes and less regulation won’t solve this; nor will more consumer credit and deficit spending — we’ve run out of tricks.


Automation

Jeremy Rifkin coined the expression: “The End of Work” with his 1996 book of the same name.4 In it he spoke of a “Jobless Recovery.” A subtitle of his 2004 update, however, predicted: “The Permanent Jobless Recovery.” This was 2004. He was no longer talking about a Jobless Recovery, but a permanent one! The topic has absorbed us since 2009. But permanent?

We’re taught that each time technology tossed workers to the street, technology and cheaper goods would create new, more, and higher-paying jobs. Jobs expanded from agriculture to manufacturing to service. But now information and communication technologies and “smart” machines invade all these occupations. In the global economy no business can rest on its laurels. Obsolescence impends; advance or fall back.

The precipitous decline in union membership diagrams the process. The power to withhold services used to be unions’ stock-in-trade. When was the last time a union called a major strike? Clearly employees are losing ground to employers. Moreover, skills get used up. Gone is the gold watch ceremony at the end of 45 years of doing the same job. Going back to school to learn a new skill or craft is the impermanent worker’s permanent task. I think it’s not for everyone.

There will continue to be jobs for CEOs, some lawyers, and craft workers like plumbers, roofers, and carpenters. Non-profits may take up some of the slack. The arts and organized crime are not going away. Uh oh! The final frontier?


Robotics

The Economist5 reported recently on how Japan is solving its shortage of nurses by employing robots to feed and walk the infirm. Reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” lifting gear allows Japanese nurses to lift patients using robotic body attachments. The Economist, ever clueless, blamed the nurse shortage on Japan’s miserly immigration quotas. Recommended reading: The McKinsey Global Institute6 details 12 what it calls “disruptive technologies” whose world-wide worth will grow from $14 trillion to $35 trillion by 2025.

In Robot Futures,7 Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s almost whimsical look at the future, nano technology, “the cloud,” artificial intelligence, and robots (bots), some of them looking quite human, complete the conquest of work — and a lot more. I don’t want to go into detail about what is a flashing beam on the unknowable, but “you can’t stop progress,” as we used to say.


Jobs, precious jobs

It has always been assumed that work was an essential part of life. People measure their self-worth based on their ability to do their fair share. A growing population faced with a declining job market will present social dilemmas never before encountered. Moreover, we will need to resolve the question: how does an unemployed population buy the wonderful products made by robots?

Every job is precious. Every job forestalls the day of reckoning and gives us precious time to adjust. Immigration is something we just can’t afford.


Endnotes

1. United States. Department of Homeland Security. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2012.

2. John Aidan Byrne, New York Post, “IBM now employs more workers in India than US”, October 5, 2013. http://nypost.com/2013/10/05/ibm-now-employs-more-workers-in-india-than-us/

3. Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, “The Uncomfortable Truth About American Wages,” The New York Times, Tuesday, October 8, 2013. Greenstone and Looney are, respectively, director and policy director of Brookings’ Hamilton Project “Closing the Jobs Gap.” They blame the declines on “a variety of factors, including technological change, international trade and the decline of unions.” Brookings! Clueless!

4. Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work, The decline of the global workforce and the dawn of the post-market era, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penquin, New York, 1996.

5. N.V., “Difference Engine: The caring robot,” The Economist, May 14, 2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/05/automation-elderly

6. James Manyika and five others, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, McKinsey Global Institute, Chicago, 2013, 176 pages.

7. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, Robot Futures, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2013.

About the author

William Buchanan is legislative director of the American Council for Immigration Reform (ANCIR), based in Washington, D.C.

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