Sunday, February 24, 2013

This is America? Migrant Workers Benefit our Economy

"This is America. I don't want my tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian."

These comical words were spoken by talk show host, and comedian Steven Colbert in front of Congress in May of last year. While our class has explored the theme of immigration through our reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, many politicians disfavor Birthright Citizenship with recent legislation.

 In the United States, any person born on U.S soil is automatically considered a naturalized citizen of the United States. This is illustrated by the latin phrase jus soli, or "Birth by soil." Many argue that this allows illegal immigrants to flock into the U.S just to give birth and stay in America with their children. While many politicians complain about illegal migrant work, I believe they are necessary to our country's prosperity.

First off, Lower wage workers, like illegal immigrants, perform a vital function in the American economy.  According to Chris Isidore, CNN money senior writer, “economists say that if immigrant workers weren’t present, rather than native-born workers getting better wages to do the same jobs, many jobs done by immigrants might not get done at all”  Illegal immigrants are absolutely necessary for many jobs and products across the country that most people don’t even know, like lettuce.  Benjamin Powell, senior fellow at the Independent Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, says in 2004 after a crackdown on illegal immigration that hurt the lettuce industry, “To hire Americans to do it, they would have had to raise wages so far, it wouldn’t have been worth it for them... It caused less of a loss to leave the crop to rot.” 

These low wage workers provide large shares of employment in many fields like agriculture, where 80% of field workers are illegal immigrants.  Tamar Jacoby, president of Immigrationworks, says in a New York Times Article from 2011 that, “if unauthorized farm workers are expelled from the U.S. — [there will be] not just more expensive produce, but the collapse of American labor-intensive agriculture.”  To put a number on this horrifying image, according to the USDA, the agriculture industry in America as of 2010 is worth over 308 billion dollars.  Jacoby goes on to say, “According to economists, every farm job supports three to four others up and downstream in the local economy: from the people who make and sell fertilizer and farm machinery to those who work in trucking, food processing, grocery stores and restaurants.”  Illegal immigrants aren’t only completely responsible for the agriculture industry, but also up to 8% of our country’s employment, using statistics from the USDA.

Others may argue that this is undermining cheap labor, but the way I see it, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Many immigrants come to America seeking economic opportunities that weren't being met in their own country. It also proves to be beneficial to the US economy for the above reasons. What do you think? Are illegal immigrants, on net, a benefit or a burden to US society? Please share your opinions below

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teach for Equality

Today our teacher, Mr. O'Connor, wrote a new post entitled Proclaiming Emancipation, Part II which questions whether or not the US has seen more racial equality since the Civil Rights Movement. Last week, many of our class's Civil War Reconstruction projects entailed plans for education reform, as argued that equal education brings more societal equality as well. 

Imani Perry of the Washington Post wrote that "[African Americans] face the highest rates of unemployment and incarceration, and have alarmingly low high school graduation rates in major cities." The Progressive also released that, "A mere 11 percent of black students were proficient in math, as opposed to 50 percent of Asians, and 42 percent of whites." 

While this inequality continues to hold Blacks captive, along with income disparities and shockingly high incarceration rates as shown by Perry, there are implications of racially unequal education system that cause the U.S to struggle in the world economy. According to a study from the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, U.S. students lag behind many other countries in math and reading skills. African-American and Latino students, in particular, are falling way behind. The US could have both smarter students overall, as well as a higher GDP growth which could translate into "an additional $1 trillion in the economy each year", the study said.

If the US wants to live up to its fullest economic potential, it clearly needs to figure a way to bring not only the academic proficiencies of minorities higher, but for white students too. This, I believe would create a more sound education system, better preparing our students for an advancing job market, and increase academic competition internationally. Now it's your turn. Do you think an improved education system would better our country with racial equality? I wonder whether these steps would also bring down unemployment among African Americans and reduce incarceration rates. Also please consider the question: Is education really the way to go, or should we target other areas? Please share your thoughts below.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Injustice to the Voter: Present During Reconstruction and Today

Recently, our class discussed ways in which the planters fought back during reconstruction. One of the ways they tried to flex their power was through economic coercion, by limiting freedmen's voting rights by threatening their jobs at the voting polls. This political corruption, limited the promised right to voice their opinion in our democracy, which harmed the political process. Although, 150 years after the reconstruction period, has our political process changed that much? 

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times wrote, “Until 2010, federal law barred companies from urging employees to support specific politicians. But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting — and sometimes explicitly recommending — how they should vote this fall.

ThinkProgress shows us that CEOs like the Koch brothers threatened 45,000 employees saying that if Obama won there would be layoffs.  Many followed up on these threats. A Las Vegas Ceo fired 22 of his 114 workers as a direct result of Obama winning the election. You can find the rest of the article here.

Although not targeted specifically to African Americans (like voter restriction during reconstruction) there are still injustices in our very political system that went unsolved. This issue begs the question whether or not it is just for money to play a part in our democracy (as it currently does). What do you think?

I think it's wrong to influence people's voices based on their economic situations.This affects votes  because as Stanley Feldman from the department of political science at Kentucky points out, “Accumulated evidence very strongly suggests that vote choice and presidential evaluations are influenced by personal economic considerations. In other words, if you feel voting one way could make you lose your job, you might vote the other way despite your political beliefs. This completely undermines the election process by giving CEOs unfair voting power through the ability to threaten their employees. Similar to reconstruction, there are still political injustices that I believe need to be fixed.