The March 20 issue of The Economist focused on the rapidly growing Latino population for “Firing Up America.” The British publication provoked a series of commentaries in the U.S. media. But, the substance of the article was largely ignored while media attention focused on the front page graphic of a stylized American flag with red stripes composed of chili peppers. Finally, substantive commentary on the article appeared in the March 18 Washington Examiner written by conservative columnist Michael Barone.
Barone suggests that the magazine got carried away in pinning the future prosperity of the United States on the growing share of the population and the workforce comprised of Hispanic immigrants and their progeny. He notes that, “… so far the Hispanics who crossed the southern border don’t seem to have moved upward as rapidly as Italian-Americans did in the last century.”
A major reason for a different pace of upward mobility between the current wave of immigration and that of a century ago should be obvious to all. The U.S. economy is very unlike that of a century ago. The human capital needs are very different. While there is still a need for unskilled labor, it is much diminished in an era of mechanized production and robotics. Nevertheless, the nation’s current immigration law emphasizes family reunification rather than education and needed workforce skills. Besides that, the flow of refugees and illegal entrants further undermines the focus on skills that can fuel innovation.
Another difference is the welfare state today that did not exist a century ago. No longer are immigrant families thrown into a sink-or-swim environment. Low earning families with children immediately become eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. With an SSN they can claim the Earned Income Tax Credit. Children get free or reduced price meals in the schools. Don’t speak English at home? No problem, special school instruction will help the kids and adult education classes will help the parents. With a green card and five years of residency food stamps and a vast array of social welfare programs become available.
Both of these factors make the absorption of immigrants today, regardless of their ethnicity, is different from the nation’s experience a century ago. A further difference is the fact that the size of the U.S. population and its demand on the land’s resources is today vastly different. Though vast, the nation has limited land and natural resources. These factors – the needs of the economy, the mix of wealth producers and consumers, and the absorptive limits of the land all suggest that the immigration policy of the past is wrong for the future.