Immigration, Income, and Making America Great (Again)
EXCERPTED FROM “How The Revolution Started: Essays & Impertinent Thoughts “(Eggy Press).
Contrary to what Donald J. Trump and his followers claim to believe, immigration is not what’s keeping America from being great (again). If folks who live in Iowa and New Hampshire who are convinced that our national safety rests on the construction of a giant wall between Mexico and what used to be Mexico – if they lived instead in, say, California, they would see that immigration isn’t a pernicious cancer gnawing at the organs of our economy. They would see that immigration (legal or otherwise) is pretty great, because it keeps industries like agriculture, construction and restaurants running smoothly and with handsome profits for the (mostly white) non-immigrants who employ the (mostly brown) “guest workers.”
America is a land of immigrants. Back around 1900, scapegoats were made of Italians and Irish and Poles. Now their great-grandchildren are finding convenient targets in Spanish speakers.
Back around 1850, immigration was difficult for the Cherokee and the Sioux, the Navajo and the Cree. Too bad for them that Donald J. Trump’s ancestors, and a horde of other Europeans, were immigrating to (and on and over and all around) their native lands, later to be transformed into shopping malls and office towers.
Back around 1750, immigration was difficult for former residents of various African nations.
But they persevered. We persevered. All us immigrants figured out how to live among each other. And how to keep the mill wheel turning. The history of America teaches us that slaves, or indentured servants, must be procured from somewhere. Someone must do the labor and do it cheaply, otherwise how can the plantation owner enjoy a life of leisure and moral uplift? Our current strategy is a hybrid of outsourcing — to places like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, or wherever else the locals will be grateful for a soul-crushing, repetitive, potentially dangerous job that pays a princely $3 a day — and in-sourcing, importing the cheap laborers from El Salvador and Guatemala and wherever else our imperialist meddling has destabilized lawful society and enriched violent oligarchs.
Our society’s fascination with immigrants-as-malefactors dovetails nicely with the long-nascent, currently blossoming awareness of income inequality. They both seem to be the Essential Problem. But only one them really is.
If you’re reading this, you probably consider you and your offspring way too smart to have to take a minimum-wage job. Those jobs are for teenagers and Mexicans (who stole all the good jobs away from industrious Americans). But you’re also probably good enough at math to figure out how much someone earns who works 40 hours a week for $10-an-hour. You can probably also figure out what that person would earn if the minimum wage was raised to $15. Yes, $120 a day, $600 a week.
Raising a working person’s income to around $30,000 from $20,000 will mean a demonstrable change in quality of life. But folks are worried about where the money will come from. Higher prices at Burger King? Less income for me? Here’s all you need to know: Blue Shield, the allegedly non-profit insurer whose coffers have grown by billions of dollars thanks to the ACA boondoggle, awarded their top executives $64 million in compensation – you know, for managing things so excellently. No one broke any laws, so we can take comfort in the good character of the board members involved. We can also remind ourselves that this sort of chicanery occurs every day at every major corporation in America. And we the people pay for it.
So what if we collectively decided that what we prefer to pay for is a living wage for the people who do the jobs no one wants? What if we collectively decided we prefer for poor people at the bottom of the pyramid to have a drastically larger portion of the pie while people at the very top have slightly less?
Here’s what would happen: America would be such a better place that immigration would increase rapidly and with such fervor that we would need a 12-foot wall encasing our borders.
Maybe Trump and his acolytes are right, after all.