Arnold Kling  

Immigrant Labor Market Issues

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Caitlin Flanagan's cover story (as of this writing, not yet on line) for the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly is on the crucial role played by female immigrant workers in the "have-it-all" lifestyle of professional women with children.


one of the noblest tenets of second-wave feminism collapsed like a house of cards. The new immigrants were met at the docks not by a highly organized and politically powerful group of American women intent on bettering the lot of their sex but, rather, by an equally large army of educated professional-class women with booming careers who needed their children looked after and their houses cleaned.

...they are deserving of the same wage and hour regulations, the same disability insurance, and the same Social Security set-asides to which all other employees in this country...are entitled.

On the topic of immigrants and the secondary labor market, Randall Parker casts a skeptical eye at the Bush proposal for temporary work permits.


The fallacy underlying the justification for bringing in millions of foreign laborers for low skilled jobs is that there is a labor shortage for some types of jobs. But markets do not have shortages. Markets simply have prices at which supply and demand for various types of jobs will match up and equal...A smaller supply of less skilled workers will cause the price of their labor to rise and companies and individuals will respond by developing and using techniques and equipment that reduce the need for human labor. The market will not only adjust but it will grow as companies speed up their rate of development of labor-saving innovations.

Parker's main contention is that guest workers and illegal immigrants constitute distinct market segments, rather than close substitutes. Thus, he argues that a guest worker program would not solve the problem of illegal immigration.

For Discussion. If Parker's proposal were followed and the wages of domestic workers increased, what might Flanagan predict would happen to labor force participation by professional women?


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The author at ParaPundit.com in a related article titled Thinking About Bush's Less Than Half-Baked Worker Permit Proposal writes:
    George W. Bush's proposal for foreign temporary worker work permits has angered many conservatives for good reason. What follows is... [Tracked on February 8, 2004 9:42 PM]
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    Welcome to the Carnival of the Capitalists! Carnival of the Capitalists is a weekly collection of business-themed articles from the best and brightest on the web. I am always impressed by the serious thought reflected in the pieces published on the Car... [Tracked on February 17, 2004 12:04 PM]
COMMENTS (5 to date)
David Thomson writes:

It appears that a very good case might be made that the feminist revolution relied on immigrant labor. I strongly suspect that most American women could not have afforded to pay much more money. Thus, the immigrant house keepers probably saved their rear ends.

This is why I’m so confused by the illegal alien issue. We are mostly a bunch of hypocrites (and yes, that does include me!) who desired to hire inexpensive labor to cut our lawns and perform other menial tasks. Did I ever suspect that these guys were illegally in the country? Of course. I simply didn’t ask any questions and abided by the minimum demands of our nation’s laws. President Bush’s recent proposals seem to be the about the only thing that can be done considering the circumstances. After all, we are not going to expel millions of people already in the country.

Let’s stop wasting time and deal with the real crisis: the anti-intellectualism of many Hispanic laborers. These people simply must abandon their macho culture’s contempt for learning. Everything else will fall into place once this is accomplished.

Eric Krieg writes:

Rich Lowry has an essay on immigration entitled "Cut your own damn lawn!".

I don't travel in circles where people have Mexican maids and nannies. I have no idea if femminism was built upon the back of illegal immigration, but I suspect that that is a LITTLE of an exageration.

David Thomson writes:

“Rich Lowry has an essay on immigration entitled ‘Cut your own damn lawn!’”

Rich Lowry’s article is written about thirty years too late! It’s water over the bridge. The illegal aliens are here---in the millions. They are not leaving anytime in the near future. Many of their children are also American citizens. Thus, President Bush’s compromise proposal seems fairly reasonable.

Dave Sheridan writes:

What would happen to labor force participation? Some interesting first and second-order effects suggest themselves:
- If we assume that low-cost domestic help makes labor force participation affordable for more women, that an increase in cost would reduce work force participation at the margin. Demands for free and low-cost daycare, universal pre-school, all-day kindergarten, etc. are attempts to have taxpayers pick up part of the tab for women at the low end of the pay scale to participate in the workforce.

- A second-order condition is based on the idea that the services of many women are valued to the extent that their employers might elect to increase wages to induce valued workers to remain. For these women, their employers would be absorbing some of the labor cost increase.

T. Dinkins writes:

Is it illegal to pay an illegal immigrant (whether you know they are illegal or not) for services such as housekeeping, lawn, etc.? If it is illegal to hire these people, what does a person do when the illegal immigrant commits a crime in the home while performing a labor for pay by the homeowner? what recourse is there for the homeowner for this type of situation?

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