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The End of a Wave
April 24, 2012 12:09 AM   Subscribe

"Net migration from Mexico to the United States has come to a statistical standstill, stalling one of the most significant demographic trends of the last four decades." The full report from Pew Research Center. This interactive map [NY Times] puts America's many historical immigration trends in perspective. (previously).
posted by Defenestrator (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Congratulations, Arizona. You've officially made living in the United States as appealing as living in a corrupt narco-state.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:23 AM on April 24, 2012 [19 favorites]


I remember reading a story about four years or so ago about Mexicans wiring money to their immigrant (legal or otherwise) family members in the U.S., as opposed to the traditional other way around.

I wonder if there are any studies of regarding down-on-their luck U.S. citizens who have needed to suck it up and do the "dirty jobs" of fruit picking and ditch digging that Hispanics would traditionally do for low wages, and that were unthinkable before the Bush Recession.
posted by bardic at 12:35 AM on April 24, 2012


The [Mexican fertility] rate dropped from 7.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.4 in 2009, meaning there are fewer people entering the workforce. At the same time, indicators of development such as literacy, average years of education and healthcare have improved.
Explains a lot.
posted by stbalbach at 1:16 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This related article is a trip:
STOCKTON -- In the center of a starkly lighted wrestling ring, RJ Brewer glared at the overwhelmingly Latino crowd and spread the flag of Arizona across his back.

Buff, mean, white and glistening with baby oil, he snatched the microphone from the referee. "I come from the greatest city in the United States: Phoenix, Arizona!" the wrestler yelled in English. "Phoenix is the only city with a woman in power with the guts to get into the president's face and address the real problem in this country!"

The audience knows that the "problem" he is referring to is illegal immigration. And the woman is his so-called mother — conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the nation's toughest law against illegal immigrants.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder if there are any studies of regarding down-on-their luck U.S. citizens who have needed to suck it up and do the "dirty jobs" of fruit picking and ditch digging that Hispanics would traditionally do for low wages, and that were unthinkable before the Bush Recession.
There are a lot of people who are poor, Hispanic, and U.S. citizens who also do that kind of work.
posted by delmoi at 1:59 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fully expect all social conservatives who are concerned about illegal immigration to have a party and stop bothering us.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:03 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fully expect all social conservatives who are concerned about illegal immigration to have a party and stop bothering us.

Prediction: the anti-immigration lobby with claim 'victory!' and indeed have a fiesta, replete with burritos and nachos. However they will wrongly be attributing the still tide of cross-border immigration to some kind of policy intervention. Well, they will be right, but that policy intervention has to do with macroeconomic problems in the economy, and little to do with anything immigration-related. At long last, they have the privilege of going back to Mexico. The rest are trapped North of the border, in a place of growing wealth inequality and corruption.

Todo árbol es madera, pero el ocote no es caoba.

Strange times, eh?
posted by nickrussell at 2:53 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"There are a lot of people who are poor, Hispanic, and U.S. citizens who also do that kind of work."

That's mighty self-righteous of you to point out delmoi, thank you. But in fact there studies that show large swaths of US agriculture and meat-packing are highly dependent on illegal immigrants.

This article kind of gets to my question as well: "As tide of illegal goes home, will US economy suffer?"
posted by bardic at 2:55 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people who are poor, Hispanic, and U.S. citizens who also do that kind of work.

All of which demonstrates little more than the fact that bardic said "Hispanics" when what he actually meant was "migrant workers."

The whole point of the article seems to be "something has changed vis-a-vis the particular circumstances of people migrating north (legally or not) to the U.S. to do shitty jobs. The issue can be theoretically attributed to a number of factors, ranging from "things are different for Mexican/Central American residents these days " as well as "the actual job market in the U.S. might be different now."

I think bardic was merely trying to suggest that the latter situation is equally worthy of study as the former.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:59 AM on April 24, 2012


Wow, this really puts a kink in the conservative narrative.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:10 AM on April 24, 2012


Pre-existing condition, therefore not covered.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:15 AM on April 24, 2012


It reminds me of that South Park where illegals realize things are so shitty here that they start recrossing back into Mexico and the Border Patrol reverses course and tries to keep them here.
posted by Renoroc at 5:35 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That LA Times article linked above by delmoi is fantastic.
posted by werkzeuger at 5:40 AM on April 24, 2012


"The fact remains there's still 7 million illegal aliens occupying jobs that should go to American citizens," he said. "It's nowhere near mission accomplished."
The United States of America: where "job creation" means kicking out the people that refill your water at restaurants.
posted by deathpanels at 5:50 AM on April 24, 2012


So is this where I get to put that joke about Republicans wanting to build a wall, but not having any idea how to build one with only one side?
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:13 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


large swaths of US agriculture and meat-packing are highly dependent on illegal immigrants.

Any industry that's dependent on easily-exploitable labor -- which is the only difference between a working-class illegal laborer and a working-class legal one -- deserves to burn. We might as well try to defend the cotton industry in the antebellum south.

Look for those industries to try to use the lack of exploitable illegal labor as an excuse for eroding worker protections on legal employees; I'm sure it's quite the nuisance to have to deal with the horrors of overtime and market-rate payscales for unpleasant jobs once you've gotten used to workers who can be bullied into accepting less.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:17 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any industry that's dependent on easily-exploitable labor

Are we to assume that you don't shop at any number of the big-box stores that also have a history of exploitation?

Also, as a former migrant worker myself, I can say that not all illegal workers are being exploited. Some places actually pay a decent wage, probably because they can afford to since they're not paying for healthcare. Another reason why it's moronic to oppose a national health care option.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:27 AM on April 24, 2012


ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION!!! STOP IT!!!!!!!!!!!*

I suspect this will not be mentioned by those ax-grinders whose sole political issue is immigration.

*Brought to you by the Corporation for Republican Wedge Issues.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:27 AM on April 24, 2012


Congratulations, Arizona. You've officially made living in the United States as appealing as living in a corrupt narco-state.

The Mexican economy has been growing fairly rapidly, unlike the US economy. I know people who have returned, and others who are considering it. The sense that there is more opportunity here has really palpably faded, which is interesting.

I wonder if there are any studies of regarding down-on-their luck U.S. citizens who have needed to suck it up and do the "dirty jobs" of fruit picking and ditch digging that Hispanics would traditionally do for low wages, and that were unthinkable before the Bush Recession.

I don't know of any studies. Purely anecdotally, living in an area with a huge immigrant population, and knowing both immigrant workers and people who employ large numbers of laborers, I don't see any movement by native-born Americans (of any color) into those jobs. Competition is tight for good workers, and if you showed up and were willing to do the work, you would get hired. Again purely anecdotally, but I know a couple of long-term unemployed guys, the exact kind of down-on-their-luck hard cases who you would think would be competing with the immigrants for manual labor jobs. They aren't, because the safety net is adequate, they have wives/girlfriends who bring home a salary, and so there's no reason they are going to be out there busting ass in the hot sun all day.

I think if you really wanted those jobs to be taken by native born Americans, you'd have to first cut the social safety net back to pre-Great Depression levels (which would appear to be the current Republican project, sadly). Even our crappy and very fragmented safety net, combined with opportunities in the legal labor market, provides options that are better than 12 hour days working with dangerous agricultural chemicals, for example.

Any industry that's dependent on easily-exploitable labor

For what it's worth, agricultural labor here normally pays between $9.50 and $12 per hour. Some things are piece work (eg fruit picking), but a lot of it is hourly (eg pruning) because the quality of the work suffers too much when people are rushing too fast. It's tough work, but not automatically exploitative, and the labor shortages of the past five years or so have caused intense competition for workers.
posted by Forktine at 6:40 AM on April 24, 2012


This is a trend that has been observable for a while now. The reasons are varied, but the good news is, as Forktine says, that the Mexican economy has made tremendous growth in the last decade. Illegal immigration is all about economic incentive, and the incentives are increasingly pointing to staying at home rather than migrating.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:14 AM on April 24, 2012


Congratulations, Arizona. You've officially made living in the United States as appealing as living in a corrupt narco-state.

I've linked to this government study on immigration demographics many, many times on MetaFilter, so I'd just like to take this opportunity to say 'I told you so'.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:18 AM on April 24, 2012


There's a bigger story here.

The first is that illegal immigration serve(d) a purpose -- primarily low-wage workers outside of the formal systems of governance and tax that business owners exploited for a long, long time.

Whenever the anti-immigration movement came on television, who was protesting? Often the lower and middle-classes. And what was the platform? Crime. Rare were interviews with business owners damning illegal immigration, because the system worked out quite nicely for them.

If we think of Occam's Razor -- entities do not multiple unnecessarily -- the fact that illegal immigration was not stemmed does not reflect the lack of capability to stem it but rather the lack of a desire to stem it.

As mentioned, business owners made a lot of extra profit -- or in some cases, stayed in business -- because of their "access" to that part of the working population. An the middle-classes were complicit. Individuals did not ask to see documentation for their nannies, babysitters, gardeners, handymen, housekeepers, etc. because they wanted plausible deniability -- and substantial cost savings.

There was something hanging in mind earlier after reading the post, and it was this article from last year in the New York Times.
How can there be a labor shortage when nearly one out of every 11 people in the nation are unemployed?

That’s the question John Harold asked himself last winter when he was trying to figure out how much help he would need to harvest the corn and onions on his 1,000-acre farm here in western Colorado.

The simple-sounding plan that resulted — hire more local people and fewer foreign workers — left Mr. Harold and others who took a similar path adrift in a predicament worthy of Kafka.

The more they tried to do something concrete to address immigration and joblessness, the worse off they found themselves.

(read the article for the details>
Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds.

... (more details)...
Heath Terrell is one of the few new local residents who stuck it out. Mr. Terrell, a former hay hauler, was hired to drive a corn truck. That job kept him out of the fields, and out of the sun. Now, as the season has shifted from corn to onions, Mr. Terrell, 42, said he might just stay on with Mr. Harold through the winter, or at least onion season.
So out of almost sixty local people, one person made it at the time of the article... and he might stay on until the end of the season. That's less than a 2% success rate with the farmer paying 40% over minimum wage. The work was just too hard.

Illegal immigration serving a purpose.

Now that the Mexican economy is growing and the American economy stagnating, there's less of a reason to be in the United States. The simple property of economic diffusion. So I don't think Arizona won. Arizona was winning when immigrants took big risks to do crap jobs. That means you have something worth offering. Rather Arizona lost. The economy went down the toilet, thus making the lifestyle less attractive to immigrant labour.

What this really speaks to is not a loss in the present -- for the present conditions for most migrants was relatively tough. It speaks to the loss of a future -- a future where their children could participate in a step-change economic dream. Now with power shifting from developed to developing nations, open-learning tools like the Khan Academy and open college coursework, and online business models, there's no reason to labour in the sun for wages locals won't take.
posted by nickrussell at 9:18 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, this really puts a kink in the conservative narrative.

No, now they'll start workshopping a "guest worker" program that's exempt from federal minimum wage requirements.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:31 AM on April 24, 2012


Does anyone write Karl Rove slash fiction? You know, mental exercises to see how Fox News could spin any story to blame Obama. I think this trend would be a pretty good mental exercise.

I'm thinking, "Obama's Socialism has so wrecked America that even Mexicans no longer want a part of it." Sound Fox-y enough?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:59 AM on April 24, 2012


I thought nickrussell's comment was very insightful, but the NYT link is incorrect -- here is the actual article he's referring to.
posted by verdeluz at 2:56 PM on April 24, 2012


@verdeluz: thank you. My kingdoms for 1) an edit button, or auto URL detection.
posted by nickrussell at 3:49 PM on April 24, 2012


So do we still need the wall...
posted by gteffertz at 6:51 PM on April 24, 2012


agricultural labor here normally pays between $9.50 and $12 per hour. [...] It's tough work, but not automatically exploitative, and the labor shortages of the past five years or so have caused intense competition for workers.

While it's nice that it's not paying sub-minimum, there's nothing magic about $9-12/hr; if agricultural companies can't fill the jobs at $12/hr, or won't be able to fill the jobs once the supply of illegal labor dries up, then they're not paying enough. I have zero sympathy.

Optimally, there would be no illegal workers (obviously, we'd need more legal immigration, though that's an issue for another day), and firms would have to pay whatever the market demands to get legal workers to do those jobs. If the job involves eight hours of standing in the hot sun, or working with dangerous chemicals, or slaughtering pigs, it's probably going to require a fairly good pay scale.

I know guys who do confined-space hazmat work; it's really nasty stuff. Basically crawling in through small hatches into tanks, while on a respirator, and spraying the insides of the tanks out. It's hot, dirty, dangerous. Pays about $30-35/hr. That strikes me as about the market rate for a physically demanding, unpleasant job. And actually, I think most of those guys actually find their job more pleasant than working in a slaughterhouse, so it might be that something like working on a killing floor would pay significantly more.

I think if you really wanted those jobs to be taken by native born Americans, you'd have to first cut the social safety net back to pre-Great Depression levels

That's one solution, sure, I guess. (And I'm sure it's the one preferred by ConAgra and the Koch Brothers, so I have little doubt that it'll prove popular.) But you could also make those jobs competitive with the rest of the market. In other words, make the jobs appealing on their own merits, rather than just drop the safety net out so that the alternatives are even worse. There are lots of unpleasant jobs that are filled, so there is very clearly a point at which people are willing to do them. Some firms just prefer to whine about lazy workers rather than compete.

Of course, the real problem is that Americans are addicted to cheap stuff, and there's going to be resistance to paying the market-clearing price, absent a supply of illegal labor, for lettuce or strawberries or ground pork or any of the other products that are kept artificially cheap as a result of that labor supply. Unfortunately, a big part of that addiction to cheap goods is because that "cheapness" hides the decline in real wages that has occurred in the last generation or two, and also ensures that a fair number of people in the economy can't afford anything better (because they themselves are being underpaid in order to deliver the cheap goods). It's an ugly feedback loop, but unless we break it, it has "death spiral" written all over it.

Forcing businesses to pay market-clearing wages and accepting price increases is the only way forward.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:05 AM on April 26, 2012


I appreciated nickrussel's comments. Clearly undocumented workers have benefited all Americans. Some of the downward price pressure itself can be attributed their presence in the country. One statement needs comment.

the fact that illegal immigration was not stemmed does not reflect the lack of capability to stem it but rather the lack of a desire to stem it.

Stemming illegal immigration is different from getting rid of undocumented workers. There are an estimated 12 million of such workers in the US. No one has ever suggested an viable way to find and exit them from the country, short of trashing our economy so badly that they would be forced out of their jobs by documented residents. Oh, wait. Maybe that's the Republican party's strategy. Never mind.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2012


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