From Its Ivory Tower, Cato Throws More Fuel on the COVID Fire

Oddly oblivious to the burgeoning legions of unemployed Americans, the libertarian Cato Institute is touting a dozen proposals to accelerate and expand immigration.

Cato’s compendium of “new and interesting ideas” includes:

  • Expediting family-sponsored and employment-based immigration.
  • Allowing states to sponsor migrants based on those states’ criteria.
  • Enabling individual members of Congress to select immigrants for permanent residence.
  • Replacing immigration caps with a tax on newcomers to promote “greater freedom of migration.”
  • Tying growth of employment‐based visas to growth in the most relevant sectors of the U.S. labor force.

That last one (the first in Cato’s anthology) has some merit, but not necessarily in the way Cato intended. The U.S. Department of Labor could and should do a better job of updating its workplace certifications to ensure that work visas don’t flood the market and crowd out American workers.

Under current circumstances — and for the foreseeable future — the demand for imported labor is, in fact, negative.

The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that among the more than 30 million unemployed workers in America, 4.3 million were immigrants. That’s a 455 percent increase from a year ago (versus a 295 percent rise for native-born workers).

The jobless rate among immigrants jumped to 16.5 percent, 13.8 percentage points higher than the previous year. (The native-born increase was 10.6 percentage points.)

So why would the U.S. want or need more immigrants?

Jason Riley, writing in The Wall Street Journal, offered a standard corporate/libertarian response: “Immigrant workers don’t just increase the supply of labor but also the demand for goods and services, which in turn requires businesses to hire more people to meet the higher demand.”

That’s a debatable theory in normal times. But the ongoing economic upheaval is nowhere near normal. Pumping up immigration when 4.3 million immigrants have already lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 chaos makes zero sense.

According to USA Today, “Some economists reckon that one-third or more of Americans who were laid off in the weeks leading up to the April jobs survey aren’t even looking for work and so aren’t counted as unemployed. That’s an unusually high figure and reflects the unprecedented economic twilight zone created by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Schemes to increase immigration only serve to push Americans deeper into that twilight zone.

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