Jobs for Americans or Immigrants?

Temple University hosted its annual Neighborhood Job Fair on Thursday, May 23. Over 65 employers participated, including many federal, state, and city agencies, along with many private companies including CBS Radio, Independence Blue Cross, Sheraton Hotel, Sugarhouse Casino, Target Department Store, and Verizon Wireless.

Thousands of job seekers packed Mitten Hall. And thousands more waited patiently in a long line, dressed to impress, holding folders of resumes. The line stretched from the front of Mitten Hall north up Broad Street to Beasley’s Walk, then east and as far south as the Performing Arts Center and Barrack and Wachman Halls. Later arrivals were understandably discouraged by the long line.

The length of that line was stark testimony to the persistence of unemployment, not only in Philadelphia, but throughout the U.S., where the national rate of unemployment continues to hover just below 8%, which doesn’t include discouraged job seekers who have given up trying. That most of those in line were African-American attests to the depths of unemployment in that community, still in excess of 13% nationally.

With that kind of high and continuing unemployment, why is Congress trying to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants, plus their families, and increase significantly the numbers of future immigrants? Won’t most of those immigrants compete with unemployed Americans in the search for good jobs? Isn’t it enough that we admit around a million legal immigrants every year, that we issue more green cards for legal immigration and a clear path to full citizenship than all the rest of the nations of the world combined?

The reality I believe is that both political parties have written off long-term unemployed American workers. Automation, robotics, and computerization will continue to erode the numbers of American jobs. Many employers prefer to hire the lowest-wage workers they can find, and prefer the work ethic and desperation of new immigrants to that of unemployed Americans. Organized labor which has suffered from declining membership and dues collection, looks to new immigrant labor as potential members and dues-payors.

What’s the future for long-term unemployed and underemployed American workers? Food stamps. Food stamp enrollment in the U.S. has surged 70% since 2008, with 48 million Americans now receiving them, about 15% of the population. The cost of our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is now $75 billion annually, about twice what it was in 2008.

Illegal immigrants are not yet eligible for food stamps. But so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” will expand eligibility and insure that all those numbers continue to go up. We are headed for a dystopian future that some futurists have called, “Blade Runner with food stamps.”  (This refers to the 1982 Sci-Fi movie “Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford.)

The alternative is to re-focus attention on the priority of jobs for Americans, including if necessary federally-funded jobs as were created during the Great Depression by alphabet agencies like the CCC, the WPA, and the TVA. A good first step would be the defeat in Congress of so-called “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal