Former, Current Labor Secretaries Agree: Immigration Bad for Workers, Hurts Incomes

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

September 5, 2015

Labor Day 2015 will be bleak for many Americans. For those who have jobs, their real wages have been stagnant for about 30 years. And for the more than 92 million detached from the workforce, the chance of landing a good job grows slimmer every day.
More and more jobs have been outsourced, and 1 million work-authorized legal immigrants arrive every year with several hundred thousand guest workers taking jobs Americans would do. According to the Current Population Survey, all employment growth since 2000 went to immigrants. This sobering statistic takes on greater urgency in light of the fact that two-thirds of the increase in the working-age population is American-born. The effect on jobs and wages of record levels of immigration, projected to remain at 1 million or more for the foreseeable future, is the focal point of several presidential candidates as they enter the primary season.

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American Federation of Labor founder identified immigration as a labor issue.

Even staunch amnesty advocates when pressed admit that excessive immigration suppresses wages. Former Secretaries of Labor Robert Reich and Ray Marshall, who served under Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, respectively, and current Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, acknowledge that immigration contributes to a loose labor market and flat earnings. Secretary Marshall: “There can be no doubt that immigration displaces workers since elementary economics suggests that increased labor supplies depress wages and reduce employment opportunities.”

Samuel Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor in 1886 and was its president until he died in 1924, called immigration primarily a labor issue. In his 1924 letter to Congress, Gompers identified what he called “two hostile forces” that conspire against American workers. Today, more than 90 years later, they’re the same.

The first is corporate employers who, Gompers wrote in his letter, want to pay “the lowest possible wage” to “a rapidly revolving labor supply” rather than fair wages to Americans. The second is “radical groups” who demand open borders regardless of the effect on citizens.
After several election cycles where high immigration and its detrimental consequences for American workers were ignored, a few candidates have broached the concern. Unfortunately, an equal number call for increased visas. Americans listening to the debates over the next 15 months should remember that every visa issued represents a lost American job.


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