Immigration and Automation: A Paradox
Photo Source: Wikipedia / Phasmatisnox
T.W. Reichardt, Social Policy Contributor
Opinion -- In my native state of Texas the recent Texas Senate Bill 4 has created a great deal of controversy. This even led to the ACLU issuing a travel advisory warning across the entire state of Texas and has led to some calling it the “show me your papers bill.” To many the bill is just another part of a much longer conversation on immigration within the United States. Oddly enough, what I have not seen as part of that conversation is the paradox that exists. The Left in America advocate for the need of immigrants in the US, especially as unskilled laborers, while simultaneously warning Americans of the threat of automation, with those same jobs.
The first thing we should look at are the claims made by some with regard to immigration and why it is necessary, on even a mass scale. Noah Smith at BloomberView takes a very strong stance on immigration in his article “Without immigration, mostly of Hispanics and Asians, economic growth will falter.” Smith asserts, “Immigrants support the housing market and the stock market. They take care of elderly Americans and provide invaluable skills for U.S. corporations. Without continued robust immigration, the U.S. population will shrink and gray, and the country will start having the same problems as aging societies like Japan, South Korea, and East Europe.” The author of the article believes it is the only solution to America’s declining birth rate and to continue economic growth is to simply import a population from other countries.
In an interview with historian Nativo Lopez for the Middle East Online, Dennis Bernstein discusses the need for immigrant laborers in the United States. A good part of the discussion deals with the position the Trump Administration will have on immigration to the United States. Lopez says the Trump Administration will change its position, “Because it absolutely knows that it depends on immigrant labor, cheap immigrant labor, to work in very important segments of the economy of the United States that are producing. Whereas manufacturing is being reduced, service employment is increasing. That’s where we find immigrant labor.” This is an important discussion to have because the author does highlight a need for laborers in those fields.
What both of these articles- and many like it- do not discuss, is the effect automation will have on jobs that migrants fill in America. This topic was well addressed when Trump voters were told by the Left that their jobs were no longer available because they had been replaced by automation. The article by Salon shows, “Of the millions of manufacturing jobs lost over the past decade, more than 80 percent have been replaced by automation technologies not foreign workers.” We see both claims that, jobs no longer exist and that the workforce must shift, and also we need an unskilled migrant workforce to grow the economy.
Now, based on the evidence provided thus far there appears to be a missing link between the two claims I have made. That the jobs the immigrant workforce substantially contribute to, the service industry, we have yet to see widespread automation. Yet, CNN’s report on a study by the Cornerstone Capital groupshows a loss of “at least 38% of the current retail workforce, which consists of 16 million workers. Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study.” This creates a substantial issue as rising minimum wages is increasing the pace at which automation occurs. A report published by the financial services firm PwC warns that roughly 38% of US jobs will be automated by the early 2030s. Unless there is a new generation of Luddites or the free market decides to reverse its current push for automation, this is an unavoidable problem.
To date, there has been no answer to the issue of automation and no discussion on its relationship to immigration. In Silicon Valley there has been a growing number of voices calling for Universal Basic Income as the solution to automation. Most recently this has been done by Mark Zuckerberg at his Harvard Commencement Speech. These same voices are also even larger proponents of the need for immigration to the United States, especially in regard to economic growth. If we cannot fund our existing financial safety net and stave off massive job loss due to automation, creating a new welfare system and funding it is a complicated problem. One can only wonder how advocating for mass immigration, to obtain laborers for industries predicted to face massive layoffs, can be sound policy?
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