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Pitting Worker Against Worker
Posted on Apr 30, 2010
By Moshe Adler
But the problems that immigration creates can and should also be addressed directly. An example of how to do this is provided by Israel, because there the problem of immigration is even larger than it is in the United States. In the U.S., 39 percent of the population growth in the years 1990-2004 was due to immigration. In Israel during the same period, 86 percent of the population growth was due to immigration.
Of course, the concern in the U.S. is not about all immigrants, just about illegal immigrants. In Israel, on the other hand, virtually all of the immigrants are legal, as long as they are Jews. While this policy is objectionable in all kinds of ways, it’s nevertheless a useful case study in terms of immigration, since the immigrants to Israel are often poor. (Most of them, 80 percent in the years 1990-2004, came from the former Soviet Union.) So how does Israel deal with this influx of destitute immigrants? By letting them have enough time and enough income to find where they are most needed, they don’t add an imbalance to the work force as a whole.
Jews who immigrate to Israel receive welfare for 18 months, which in Israel is not called welfare but “assured income.” Immigrants also get subsidized mortgages if they wish to buy apartments, or rental subsidies for five years if they wish to rent. As for the makeup of the work force, immigrants get free vocational training and university students get stipends. Finally, free health insurance is available to immigrants for six months. The end result is that immigrants are absorbed with little or no opposition from workers: The work force grows, but so does the demand for labor. Some immigrants become construction workers, for instance, but the demand for housing and therefore for construction workers grows as the new immigrants are housed.
Needless to say, giving these benefits to immigrants only would never be acceptable to workers who are themselves poor. But what if all poor workers got education, training, subsidized housing, and health care? These policies would be costly, but simply ignoring the problem and unleashing the immigrants on the low-wage job market without assuming any responsibility for the consequences is cruel not only to immigrants but also to low-wage, hardworking citizens. The problem of immigration cannot be separated from the problem of labor, and it’s time we dealt with both.
Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of the book “Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal,” recently published by The New Press.
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