Monday, April 10, 2006

Some Observations on Illegal Immigrant Workers

Whenever I get into a conversation with my conspecifics about illegal immigrants, somebody always brings up that they do jobs Americans won’t do. Then somebody else argues that Americans would do those jobs if they paid better and that the immigrants drive down wages. I don’t know if any of this is true since I don’t know what the immigrants get paid and what it would take to get an unskilled American to do a Mexican’s job.

I do know that my contractor neighbor and my landscaper have to pay competitive wages to their workers, whether immigrant or native, or they will work for someone else. This is especially true if the work involves any skill at all. These men, and others I know who hire immigrant labor, report that the immigrants do good work and are reliable.

It seems to me that a lot of the work immigrants do is ad hoc, seasonal or temporary. Americans tend to look for more stable employment and are not as comfortable with the perceived insecurity of jumping from opportunity to opportunity. In my own experience, I have worked a lot of temporary jobs, some of them quite menial, and my fellow temps have often been only marginally employable and unreliable. Good temps get hired to permanent jobs if they want them and fall out of the temp labor pool pretty quickly.

I have employed temps on occasion, both at work and for work around the house, and the arrangement for manual labor is very unsatisfactory. You have to pay $20 or more per hour for unskilled labor, and the worker gets only $6 or $7 of that. It’s hard to keep a good worker in the temp world at those rates, and you end up paying pretty good money for workers who mostly aren’t worth it. It is far better to go down to where the immigrant day laborers hang out and negotiate a reasonable rate for the work.

Back in the day, a lot of the work I am talking about was done by teenagers. I did lots of odd jobs, agricultural work and lawn mowing as a kid, and I liked that a lot better than a steady shift at McDonald’s or Burger King or bagging groceries. Nowadays, it is hard to get a teenager to do any kind of ad hoc work. I would rather my neighbor’s kid mowed my lawn than pay a professional, but there is no willing candidate to do this kind of work. I have lots of jobs around the garden that I put my nephews to work on when they visit, but there are no kids in the neighborhood to hire. They all have regular jobs, if they aim to work, and the rest are bone idle.

Also, there don’t seem to be as many American drifters and hobos looking for odd jobs these days. It is hard to connect with folks who want to work on an ad hoc basis, and the most convenient way to get such workers is to pick up day laborers at their gathering places. And these guys are mainly illegal immigrants.

No comments: