Barbara Boxer

Immigration Bill Moves a Bit in Senate


The Senate shot down a bipartisan attempt to kill guest worker provisions in pending immigration-reform legislation, reports Reason Contributing Editor Carolyn Lochhead in the SF Chronicle. That said, the Senate also cut the proposed number of visas for low-skilled workers (this too was the result of bipartisan wrangling). That that said, if and when the Senate manages to pass a bill, it will be so different from the House bill (which focuses exclusively on enforcement and contains no guest worker provisions), it's far from clear that any compromise is realizable.

One interesting bit in the Chron article: There's been a fair amount of talk about how the GOP is split on immigration. Less attention has been paid to Dem divisions on the same topic. Lochhead notes that Cali's two Donkey Party senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are on different sides of the issue. Here's Boxer bashing guest worker programs:

"There are 3.6 million workers in construction with an average wage of $18.21," Boxer said. "I meet with my working people in California. They're fighting hard for these jobs, they want more of these jobs, not less of these jobs, and the last thing they want is a guest worker program that is going to provide a big pool of workers who will get far less than this amount and take jobs away from my people."

More here. Boxer's economics are off, but it's easy to see that Dems are split over their loyalties to unions and to immigrants, just as the GOP is split between social conservatives and pro-business types.

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  1. Actually, Boxer’s economics are right on. Increasing the pool of laborers looking for construction jobs will reduce the supply of available construction jobs and the wage paid to those who will work them.

    Whether this cost is outweighed by other econom ic benefits produced by immigration is another question entirely, but on the particular issue Nick quotes her on – the impact of an increased supply of construction workers on the wage paid to those workers – Boxer is absolutely correct.

  2. joe,

    Boxer said “far less” which ain’t necessarily so.

    How’s the flooding in your area?

  3. Nice to know Boxer is opposed to low cost housing. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn she is also opposed to low cost food and low cost clothing too.

    Ability to buy food, clothing, and shelter being of course the offical components of the US-definition Poverty.

  4. Actually, Boxer’s economics are right on. Increasing the pool of laborers looking for construction jobs will reduce the supply of available construction jobs and the wage paid to those who will work them.

    Increasng the pool of laborers will increase the supply of available construction jobs — the new laborers have to live and get their services somewhere — though the increase may not match the increase in supply of laborers.

    There are a number of unstated assumptions required in order to say what Boxer said: immigrants are worse construction workers; immigrants like to live poorer; there are no opportunities in construction jobs for specialization that leverage lower quality workers; people won’t take advantage of the new supply of construction labor to build even more new buildings than are necessary to serve the new population; nativist laborers whipped into a lather by Boxer and her ilk won’t riot and burn down entire cities; etc.

    Just because we’re all indoctrinated to accept Boxer’s underlying assumptions without question doesn’t mean they are any less assumptions or any more valid that non-zero-sum assumptions.

  5. Actually, Boxer’s economics are right on. Increasing the pool of laborers looking for construction jobs will reduce the supply of available construction jobs and the wage paid to those who will work them.

    It depends… it depends on how much immigration increases demand for housing and hence construction… it depends on if Mexican workers have the same skills as domestic workers, that they could replace the higher paying jobs, or if they are just digging holes – making construction cheaper and stimulating more construction. In a purely hypothetical situation, the economics are correct… but I suspect it is a little bit more complicated than that.

    Of course the whole thing is a bit silly. Even if Mexican workers DO take some construction jobs from American workers, the demand for goods and services are endless. In the absence of artifical limits (like government regulations), or natural limits (the limits on energy production, raw materials, etc – which is nowhere near the limit for most consumer products), whatever jobs are taken by Mexicans will be more than made up for by new jobs. Government restrictions destroy way more jobs than Mexican immigrants, so having the government place restrictions on Mexican immigrants is a bit silly.

  6. MikeP,

    Not a single one of those assumptions is necessary, just the twin assumptions that immigrant laborers will accept a lower wage than native-born laborers (which has been pretty aptly demonstrated at this point) and that the total supply of construction workers will be higher if the government allows higher levels of immigration than if it does not. It’s simple supply and demand.

    Also, to you and Rex Rhino, the housing/building demand created by the workers in the construction sector < the value of the construction those workers perform. Obviously, or construction workers would just build their own houses, and developers would never be able to make any money. Which is a long way of saying, the extra demand for housing/building produced by additional construction workers is a fraction of the share of the construction jobs those workers hold.

    Just as a note, you all are trying so very, very hard to prove that there is not a single negative impact, anywhere, to anyone, caused by immigration, which is a totally untenable position. If your argument relies on this, you are doomed to lose. What you need to do, as happyjuggler does is his own dickish manner, is to prove that these harms are outweighed by the benefits, or by the harms of immigration prohibition.

  7. …er, as RexRhino does in the second half of his post. Props.

  8. Boxer may be divided in her loyalties, but if she is, she’s behind the times with regards to what the unions are doing. SEIU and a bunch of others are all about organizing the immigrants. The first step in that process is bringing them out of the shadows. has an immigration page that is at odds with the stereotype of unions if anybody’s interested in what the collectivists are actually doing.

  9. joe,

    Do I think that the supply of construction company executives will go up because of increased immigration? Yes. Do I think that those executives who are new immigrants will accept a lower wage? Yes. Do I think that the average wage of construction company executives will go down with increased immigration? Not for a second. So it is not just simple supply and demand. There is something more going on, and you need more assumptions to support it.

    I will admit that my concerted attempt to restrict all economic effects to be within the construction trades is fighting an uphill battle. But I feel that such battles against automatically assumed zero-sum thinking must be fought. And, as you note, total benefit to the economy is an easy fallback position.

    Hell, even recognizing that most of the people chased out of the construction trades by the lowered wages will find their wages higher in their new jobs is a fallback position that is not at all considered by the Boxers of this world.

  10. Russ2000,

    I live in a neighborhood called the Highlands, so I’m fine. Parts of the city got hit pretty bad, though.

    The flooding was much worse than the 100 year storm event. But the utilities all stayed on line.

  11. Mike P,

    Those very same construction workers will all find higher paying jobs in short order? All of them?

    Even granting for the sake of argument that a larger supply of construction workers, and the resultant reduction in construction wages, would be positive factor in overall economic growth, that’s not the whole ballgame. There are still going to be people getting the short end of the stick, as there will always be in the churning of rough-and-tuble capitalism. And even if one wishes to take the social darwinist stance that it is good for when the “unfit” suffer, this pain and dislocation, if sufficiently deep and widespread, will itself become an anti-growth force.

    Capitalism needs liberalism for the same reason that Olympic gymnastics needs tumbling mats. Not only does it make it more humane, but it allows for greater achievement.

  12. Those very same construction workers will all find higher paying jobs in short order? All of them?

    The position I think is defensible is the following:

    Let Z be the set of all construction workers today. Begin two future realities. In Reality X, the borders are open. In Reality Y, the borders are closed. In five years, and in every year following, the average and median real wage of set Z will be higher in Reality X than in Reality Y.

    There are still going to be people getting the short end of the stick

    I don’t doubt that. But Barbara Boxer did not cite as “her people” the high school dropouts who are barely qualified to pick strawberries. Those folks will indeed have a tough time keeping their bottom rung jobs with open borders. She cited semiskilled or skilled people earning the median wage. She is simply wrong at best and demagogic at worse when she says that these folks will be certainly worse off in the future because of immigration.

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