The New Xenophobia

I read posts like this which spawns further posts such as this one and I can’t help but think that we are looking at the new xenophobia (a term I’ve shamelessly stolen from Arnold Kling).

Let’s look at the bit that Michelle Malkin highlighted.

Dale Baughman, who has lived in Northwest Arkansas all his life, has had a different experience. Three years ago, the BB-gun manufacturing plant where he worked for 29 years closed and he lost an $18.50-an- hour tool-making job. “It’s hard to find a job and the ones you can find don’t pay anything,” says the 52-year-old, who has a high-school diploma. He looked for machine-maintenance jobs at factories that would match his old pay but found only ones paying $12 to $13 an hour. He partly blames a rise in immigration, which he says is keeping wages low for less-skilled labor…..

Other workers agree that immigrants from Latin America are helping employers push wages down in jobs such as construction, where some native-born workers say they earn less now than they did 10 years ago. According to the Census Bureau, 6.9% of the area’s population was foreign-born in 2000, up from 1.5% in 1990. In addition to Latin Americans, Springdale has the largest concentration of people from the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands outside of their native land — an estimated 4,000 people, many of whom work in local factories and poultry plants.

James Bishop and Lisa Broadwell are longtime residents of Northwest Arkansas and both have years of experience in a trade: Mr. Bishop in machining and Ms. Broadwell in dry cleaning. Yet both are underemployed. “Hispanics are taking over the jobs in the poultry industry — jobs that used to go to people who live here, and as a result, those people that used to be in the poultry industry are taking over our jobs,” Ms. Broadwell said.–Full article available here.

Let’s stop and consider the situation of Dale Baughman. He says that his plight is due to the immigrants who have depressed wages. But is it? Is it that alone? Let’s also stop and consider that manufacturing jobs have been on a downward trend for the last several decades, and there has been a substantial drop off in manufacturing jobs starting around the begining of 2001.

Manufacturing Jobs

So is it reasonable to assume that Mr. Baughman’s woes are due solely to those brown people scuttling across the border to take good jobs from hard working Americans, or is it that competition in the manufacturing labor market has risen as more and more people with manufacturing work experience find themselves back looking for a job? Or is the more likely explanation that in addition to some additional competition due to illegal immigrants Mr. Baughman is the victim of what has been going on for a very long time, technological advancement? With improvements in technology many manufacturing jobs are disappearing (pdf file).

Similalry for Mr. Broadwell. You can see this in the full article that notes the following,

He has applied for several factory machinist jobs paying up to $11 an hour, but competition was heavy and he didn’t get any.

A quick check of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data will show that there has been a significant decrease in the number of manufacturing jobs in Arkansas. How significant? Well, if we look at the above graph we can see that around the start of 1998 there was a resumption in the downward trend in manufacturing jobs after a leveling off for several years. Using 1998 as our starting point we are talking of a decrease of about 45,000 jobs.

On top of this, many of the good paying jobs that are not in manufacturing these days require an educational level that is not typical for somebody who was working at a manufacturing job. While it seems “obvious” to blame these kinds of things on the “furriners” the actual explanation is probably more complicated. Have immigrants had a downward impact on wages? Probably, but I have doubts it is the single biggest impact.

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Mac says:

    “Have immigrants had a downward impact on wages? Probably”

    You mean illegal immigrants don’t you?

    That is after all what they are.

    It kills me to see my brethren on the right be so glib about this issue.

    It’s a very simple issue – and calling people “Xenophobes” because they feel that American jobs should be for… well… Americans is just whistling through the graveyard.

    Get connected to the news – there are no less than 4 major pieces on this issue all over the MSM and the blogosphere.

    It is political suicide for the right to ignore this issue while facing so many other negative issues this fall.

    These people are here illegally, and there should be stiff fines and legal action directed at any person or corporation who is hiring them under table and selling out Americans so that they can save money on salaries.

    It’s really just that simple.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    No Mac, the same thing could happen locally by having immigration of, and read this carefully, American citizens. Further, legal immigration could cause the same thing as well. So this illegal/legal distinction is one without meaning from an economic perspective.

    These people are here illegally, and there should be stiff fines and legal action directed at any person or corporation who is hiring them under table and selling out Americans so that they can save money on salaries.

    This is a legal issue and really has nothing to do with the jobs aspect of the discussion.

    Why is the anti-immigrants complain about jobs, then without warning seque into a discussion about law breaking?

  3. Mr. K. says:

    We see people on both sides of this issue not clear on the amount of services illegal immigrants supposedly provide. I think a simple way to find out would be for these millions to strike from their jobs. Then we’ll see if the nation’s economy comes to a standstilll. What better way to prove their point? That’s the only way the average american will understand what’s going on; if they go to the grocery store the next day and see the shelves empty.

  4. floyd says:

    it looks like bush has a plan to eliminate illegals on american soil, legalize them! presto,utopia! where i live the housing developers have tight control and now you can’t roof, drywall, or wire a house if you are a legal american.this is what george will calls “the peonage of the american worker”.

  5. floyd says:

    BTW, these services do not come to the end consumer at a lower price as a result.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    BTW, these services do not come to the end consumer at a lower price as a result.

    Really floyd? And your data is….?

  7. TBIRD1107 says:

    I work in a technology based industry, telecommunications (25 years). So my wages haven’t been affected as much as the local manufacturing and services industries. They have either fallen or stagnated. I can give you names of over 50 companies that employ illegals and legals. I deal with them every day. They have workers I can’t converse with and make my job harder.

    It IS an issue where illegal must be considered, because its not right.

  8. RJN says:

    Your doublethink boggles the mind.

    It is illegal immigration that is nine/tenths of the immigration, so the use of the illegal word is valid.

    The non-manufacturing jobs don’t automatically belong to illegals, as you seem to imply.

  9. floyd says:

    steve; my data comes from being involved in the building of several houses in the last five years as well as letting contract bids for three houses this year my immediate area all house lots are owned by developers. if you choose to do your own general contract work you must go at least 15 miles further out from my present location.i found a general contractor with a desirable close by lot just this month,he will allow me to partially wire the house myself and use a reputable roofer, drywaller, and concrete finisher. net savings $68000. about 6000 of which is that portion of the work that i do myself. i know it’s anecdotal, but it’s real money.

  10. John Burgess says:

    I come from a city in Massachusetts (Holyoke, on the Connecticut River) that has had entire industries move out of the area, repeatedly, over the past 80 years. Each time that happened, skilled labor had to either retool itself, end up unemployed, or move.

    The timber industry got trashed in the 19th C. as the region was deforested.

    The fabrics/fibers industry–specialty goods like alpaca and vicuna–literally went South when unionized wages became uncompetitive.

    Shoe making went South too.

    The light chemical industry lasted only about 15 years before environmental regs killed it off.

    Electronics assembly ran for maybe another 15 years before going abroad or to robots.

    Even the US military ended up closing the SAC base at Westover.

    Nearly every one of my working relatives has been laid off several times because the jobs were no longer there.

    Holyoke now alternates with Lowell as the most economically depressed cities in the Commonwealth.

    And oddly enough, immigration had nothing to do with any of this unemployment. The city had been multicultural, with Poles and French-Canadians, a large Irish majority, and smaller representation from WASPS and Greeks. These were all the “traditional” population, though clearly they all had to have immigrated at some point.

    Now the city has a large Punjabi population. And yes, they’re running the corner shops, the dry cleaners, and investing in real estate. But why not? Most young people, seeing no job prospects, leave as soon as possible.

    Sure was a good city to be from.

  11. Steve Verdon says:


    I’m assuming you are addressing your comments towards me.

    It is illegal immigration that is nine/tenths of the immigration, so the use of the illegal word is valid.

    So what, the economic issues that people raise are really irrelevant in terms of legal, illegal, or even the migration of U.S. citizens. That is all I was pointing out. I wasn’t making any statements about the legal/illegal status of immigrants.

    The non-manufacturing jobs donâ??t automatically belong to illegals, as you seem to imply.

    You are quite clearly mistaken. Nowhere have I indicated that non-manufacturing jobs belong to anybody. Samething for manufacturing jobs as well.


    You’re right it is anecdotal. The problem is that prices are not set by supply alone (e.g. wages, capital, interest, rent, etc.). Prices are set by supply and demand. If prices are going up, it may have nothing to do with labor costs and may be due to other factors.


    Very nice comment. Exactly what I’m trying to get at, but with more detail. Just because it is hard to find a job and immigrants move into the area doesn’t mean that immigrants are making it harder to find a job. Basically a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc (i.e. after the fact reasoning). My guess is it stems from the human tendency to not want to blame oneself for one’s own failures (i.e. not going out and retraining, taking a job with a longer commute, etc.).

  12. floyd says:

    in this case it isn’t “supply and demand” it’s more like “supply’en da man”, remember this is america where wages are considered theft of profit.

  13. Steve Verdon says:

    So floyd, you telling me your somekind of commic socialist or something? I’m gettin confused here…I thought you were a conservative.