On The “Immigrants Do Jobs Americans Won’t Do”

Progressives frequently claim “[Illegal] immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.” But the argument is wrong–really wrong. I support immigration. I support immigration reform. But, really, people have to stop using this argument.

Never say immigrants “do jobs Americans don’t do.” The argument is false; Americans would be willing to do those jobs if wages were high enough.

In reality, the argument should be “immigrants do jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist without their labor.” Indeed, those jobs wouldn’t exist if wages were higher than they were. The only reason those jobs haven’t been outsourced or automated is because immigrants come here to do them.

A way to conceptualize this is to imagine a minimum wage hike. More Americans would be willing to work at McDonalds if the minimum wage was $50. Of course, a minimum wage of $50 would mean McDonalds would have fewer jobs to offer.

In the same way, immigrants aren’t stealing American farm jobs; they are doing jobs that wouldn’t exist if farmers had to pay their farm hands ludicrously high wages.

So the argument liberals like to use isn’t necessarily wrong. They are correct to say illegal immigrants don’t take jobs away from natives, but the phraseology is off. Way off.

And this isn’t the only reason why undocumented immigrants don’t “take” jobs.

See, it would be difficult for immigrants to steal jobs from natives just based on their educational composition. Immigrants are usually either really educated or not educated at all. Around 80% either have a PhD or are high school dropouts. Most Americans, by contrast, are somewhere in the middle (high school diploma through masters degree), meaning they don’t compete for the same jobs.

So how do immigrants affect the labor market? Well, when low-skilled immigrants come, they are usually not fluent in English and are uneducated, so they specialize in low-skilled manual labor. Companies now are able to have more manual oriented jobs–building houses, roads, cleaning yards, sewing clothes, etc. But, with more manual jobs, they also need more managerial jobs in order to keep things in order. These managerial positions are generally mid-education (HS diploma – master’s) and are usually filled by natives who are fluent in English. This means, for the average American, low-skilled immigrants benefit native workers. The theory that immigrants compliment, rather than supplement, American labor has been empirically demonstrated.

On the high-skilled end (generally these are the “legal” immigrants), these are the people who make businesses, innovate, and contribute to high-skilled labor markets. These people are pretty much universally considered “good” by most restrictionists.

In sum, when the phraseology of the popular “they do jobs you won’t do” argument is amended, the argument works well. And other arguments–like how immigrants don’t substitute American labor, but instead they compliment it, are also valid points. But please, stop saying immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do. It’s just flat out wrong.


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