The Impact of Immigration on the Workforce

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Image by quetzalcoatl2k.

The last time we discussed our workforce, we were talking about how low literacy and limited English Language Proficiency impacts it. (Click here to visit that post). Today, we’re going to bust up some myths surrounding the impact of immigration on our workforce. Just as a refresher, when we say “workforce” we mean the:

Total number of a country’s population employed in the armed forces and civilian jobs, plus those unemployed people who are actually seeking paying work.

There is a persistent myth among some Americans that immigration is a bad thing for us, among other reasons, because it weakens our workforce. The belief is that immigrant workers will replace our existing workers and take jobs that American-born citizens could hold. The truth is that an immigrant labor force will not replace, but complement our U.S. born workforce.

There are several reasons why immigrant populations help to boost our labor pool. One reason is due to the specialization levels of workers from immigrant populations. Many immigrants are either high skilled or low-skilled, which encourages companies to create specialized positions that many different workers can benefit from. In fact, there are studies showing that an influx of high-skill immigrants actually leads to more job creation. Immigrants also fill many of the low skill jobs, which are not taken by U.S. workforce due to higher education and older age.

An aging population is another reason why immigrants are good for our workforce. Many of our workers are getting older, and there is a gap that will be left when these older workers are unable to perform. Immigrant workers come here with all kinds of skills and abilities that they can put to bear to fill this gap, which will strengthen the workforce immensely. By 2030, it’s believed that 20% of Americans will be aged 65 or older. As these aging workers retire, there will be as many as 33.4 million jobs created.

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Immigrants also have an impact on the unemployment rate and wages, but not in the way that some might think. Immigrants often move to areas with significant job growth and help boost the economy when unemployment is high. It’s been shown that immigrant workers often help to decrease the unemployment rates for these areas, not increase them. Also, U.S. native workers often make higher wages in cities with a high immigrant population, despite the belief that immigrant workers drive down wages.The average yearly wages of U.S. born workers increased 1.8% because of immigration. A 10% increase in the immigrants might decrease wages by less than 1%, but this number is almost always much closer to 0%. The impact of immigrant influx is often either negligible on wages or leads to a wage increase because even at the lowest level, immigrants increase labor supply and demand, and boost job creation.

Much of the thinking and discussion around the impact of immigrant workers on our workforce is based on stereotype. The belief that immigrant workers are here to leech off of our existing systems and take jobs from American workers just isn’t true. Immigrant workers make our workforce, and our economy stronger. They don’t contribute overmuch to crime rates. They pay taxes for services that they might not receive. They become productive members of society, and are essential to its functioning. And they make things better for everyone in the long run.

Literacy Mid-South is now offering the training these workers will need to succeed in the workplace. Learn more at www.literacymidsouth.org.

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The Ballot or the Book: Literacy Tests as a Tool of Voter Disenfranchisement

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African-Americans voting in the South Carolina primary on August 10, 1948.

As we merge at the intersection of Black History Month and the 2016 presidential election, it is important to look back at how literacy tests were used to keep voters from marginalized groups (who were mostly the descendants of slaves forcibly transported from African countries, but also poor whites and members of immigrant groups) from participating in the democratic process–a process that directly impacted their lives.  Literacy and education are and will continue to be a civil rights issue, a social justice issue, and an important step in creating a more equitable United States for all people.

Literacy tests–only one of the tools in the post Civil War voting disenfranchisement toolbox–were a simple list of questions that were given to potential voters to block their access to the ballot box. The questions on the test were either worded in a confusing manner or used to assess knowledge that members from these groups simply did not have. Tests were delivered by a single assessor who had the ability pass or fail a voter based on a whether he thought they deserved to vote. These tasks were often impossible: there are reports that literacy tests required voters to read and write complex government documents, and that the marginalized voters often received the more difficult tasks, while the privileged voters received simpler ones. Some tests were even more difficult. Here’s an example of a literacy test from Jim Crow Louisiana. Pay close attention to the directions, and keep in mind that there are 17 more questions as part of the test:

voter literacy test

Other methods to keep these disenfranchised voters from participating in the democratic process were poll taxes, electoral fraud, and outright violence. Many of these obstacles were scaffolded so that even if a member of a disadvantaged group managed to achieve success in one area, they would be faced with a more difficult obstacle at another point in the process. Literacy tests were effective in the case of former slaves when considering that before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read.

These tests were in direct violation of the Fifteenth Amendment, but The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects voters from marginalized groups against literacy tests and other forms of voter suppression. But literacy is still a foundational justice issue. Literacy is a fundamental tool of empowerment for all people, and those who do not possess this skill are often members of communities or groups that have historically suffered from structural oppression. Many individuals from these same groups still lack the ability to read, write, and understand English today, and this impacts their ability to live their lives to the fullest. The fight against low literacy is ongoing, and we need a multitude of help to combat this issue.

If you want to try your hand at more voter literacy tests, you can click here. If you’re interested in joining the fight against low literacy, consider volunteering with or donating to Literacy Mid-South.