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Name:Polimom
Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

You'd live like this?

Try as I might, I know I can’t put myself “in the shoes” of the illegal workers who are highlighted in this morning’s WaPo article. I am absolutely positive I’ve never been so desperate that I’d live on the floor of a flood-destroyed, mold-decaying house and face the hostility and impossibility of their day-to-day realities.

What I can’t figure out (never could) is what Americans fear from these folks? I hear – all the time – about how they’re taking away our jobs. Really? Who among us is willing to live and work under such conditions, much less for these wages? I know I’m not.

Just to be clear: I don’t for one second believe that a company awarded a governmental contract should be coming into New Orleans with illegal immigrants to fulfill a contracted obligation. If KBR (for instance) bid to do work for the government, they should be moving heaven and earth to hire (and house) local citizens.

But this article isn’t talking about governmental contracts. The author is writing about people willing to help on the ground, at the individual level, and right now in New Orleans, that seems like a necessary void to fill. People have homes to gut, debris to clear, studs to bleach… you name it.

Unless I’m missing something, we don’t have buses and lines of Americans standing in line to sleep on floors while they take those menial jobs. Can somebody show me where they are?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent many hours talking about exactly this with a very dear friend, and we never did meet in the middle. His fear was even harder for me to understand: that illegal workers might be taking away traditional “first-job” opportunities from young people… and yet he was sure his kids wouldn’t do the type of work described in the article, and certainly never under those conditions.

How are these sad, desperate people hurting anybody? They break my heart.

14 Comments:

  • At 10:59 AM, Blogger Mark said;

    Part of the damn problem is, why should anybody in American with a job be sleeping in a moldly house with no running water or electricity?



     
  • At 11:09 AM, Blogger bardseyeview said;

    They are hurting poor Americans by competing for their jobs. Restaurant and hotel work would definitely pay more, maybe much more, right now if immigration laws were properly enforced. But they middle class people like us would have to pay a bit more at restaurants and hotels. I'd be willing to.

    These terribly unfortunate people can be aided mostly by open trade with Mexico and by political reform in Mexico. We can't solve everything, but we owe America's poor, our own poor, assistance first.



     
  • At 2:24 PM, Blogger Schroeder said;

    Where are they? They're wherever 400,000 homeless, jobless people go after a flood caused by the failure of a federal levee system go. They are wherever the federal government and, as you said, contractors should be required to go to find them.



     
  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger Schroeder said;

    And yes, lot's of people are living in moldy houses in New Orleans. The difference is that they own those houses.



     
  • At 2:27 PM, Blogger The Master said;

    Polimom is right. These folks take jobs that are nasty, dirty, low paid, or otherwise "unsuitable" for native born US citizens. Why won't US citizens take them? Possibly because they have better alternatives to working so hard for so little--such as various social support options (e.g. welfare, unemployment insurance, borrowing money from the parents . . . . ) Possibly because they are already "inside the tent", and they are not feeling the hard edge of desperation that many of the illegal workers so obviously do.

    If these illegal workers did not take these jobs, as bardseyeview says, the wages for them (these jobs) would no doubt rise in order to attract US citizens to take them. However, the total amount of money available to pay for the work needed would not expand, so the result would be less work done at a higher cost. Paying "a bit more at restaurants and hotels" might be a result of excluding the illegal workers, but so might the closure of some hotels and restaurants (and other service businesses), due to lack of workers, or lack of customers who can/will pay higher prices. The choices available to us all would be reduced, thereby impoverishing society as a whole just a bit, and the people we would have excluded would still exist, their families would be hungry, and they would be wholly desperate.

    What would help would be a good "guest worker" program, whereby non-citizens could "come in from the cold" and register, thereby gaining some protection from exploitation. The problem with all proposals to do this is that the existing interest groups do not want competition, so for example, labor unions want all existing labor laws to apply (minimum wages, closed shops in some states, etc.) while business wants guest workers who are exempt from some (or all) of these laws. Otherwise, if the cost of hiring them is the same as hiring a US citizen or legal alien, what is the incentive to do so? Many cannot speak English, have no "resume" to vet, and from a hiring point of view, represent a risk with no upside. Hence the stalemate.

    The last credible "amnesty" program for illegals in this country was a Jimmy Carter initiative. It worked, but it has never been repeated, partly because of the "moral hazard" problem. (If there is a chance of an amnesty program for those already (illegally) in the country as of a certain date, then the incentive to slip in now and establish oneself is very strong.)

    W proposed a guest worker program with Mexico shortly before 9/11. It was not well received by anyone, including Mexico. Since 9/11 the issue seems to be forgotten, at least in the US, and illegals still flood over the boarder, looking for work, that while low paid and unattractive, is apparently better paying and more attractive that what is available to them at home.

    The problem continues to grow . . . solutions seem farther away all the time.



     
  • At 3:27 PM, Blogger BrStarr said;

    People wouldn't have to work in such conditions if there weren't a flood of workers legal or illegal from another nation coming in to work in semi-slavery conditions.

    If you approve of giving away of American jobs, please don't complain the next time someone steals from you.



     
  • At 4:40 PM, Blogger LonewackoDotCom said;

    I discuss this WaPo article here.

    Regarding "The Master"'s comment, what we really need to do is import a few hundred thousand Chinese - preferably "criminals" if you know what I mean - to do this work. They'll not only work cheaper than Mexican illegal aliens, they practically eat mold for breakfast!

    Of course, the more American alternative would be to enforce our immigration laws and for our pseudo-American representatives to come up with a rebuilding plan involving American workers. If there are no American workers, then we need to bring them in, raising wages as necessary.

    With that alternative, there would be no such worker abuses. Workers would wear the proper safety equipment, because their bosses could get sued or imprisoned if they tried to pull some of the same things they can do to illegal aliens.

    And, that way the federal money those workers will receive will stay in the U.S. Illegal aliens will send a good chunk of their earnings home. That helps the Mexican government avoid reforms. In fact, such "remittances" are Mexico's second highest source of income. (And, that helps explain why Vicente Fox offered to "help" us rebuild.)

    And, that way instead of paying Americans not to work, we'll be paying Americans to work rebuilding their own communities.

    I'd suggest not falling for the WaPo's propaganda and instead really thinking this subject through and figuring out the best way to deal with issues.



     
  • At 6:50 PM, Blogger Polimom said;

    As the question applies to all of America, the illegal immigrant issue is thorny, emotional, and ultimately reflects on the structure of our society as a whole. It's hard not to agree, for instance, with the "soul" of brstarr's comment - except that there have always been "jobs" that leave room for exploitation, and there unfortunately always will be people who are desperate enough to take them.

    The Master's feedback was clearly a well-developed position, and covers a number of the problems that make the issue so complex.

    Lonewacko, I agree that the WaPo piece was emotionally charged. But I don't think it was fantastic, and showing the human side of a sad condition is not necessarily propoganda.

    It is absolutely true that we should be bringing in American workers to do the salvage "grunt" work. It is, after all, work.

    But we haven't... and NOLA languishes.

    Personally, my goal is the revitalization of the city, and if there are people in it - whoever they are - who are willing to do what it takes to get those tough, nasty, dirty jobs done, then at the end of the day, the City gains, the people who hired them to haul away debris gain, and the workers themselves gain.

    These illegal laborers are highly unlikely to stay in NOLA, not least because they'll never be able to afford it. But they're also not welcome there, and even if they did haul the trash out of a restaurant, I'm confident that it would only be until a New Orleanian came home and took the job.

    It's possible I'm being naive again. I often am.

    The bottom line is that at the moment, those are the conditions in the city... and the city needs help. I don't see the utilization of illegals as a long-term threat, and I certainly don't advocate a major influx. But if they're there, why not use them... at least until some local folks can get on their feet enough to step back in?



     
  • At 8:24 PM, Blogger LonewackoDotCom said;

    showing the human side of a sad condition is not necessarily propoganda.

    I have hundreds of posts about illegal immigration and dozens of those are about MSM stories showing the human side of illegal immigration. In fact, some of them are almost identical in structure to others. After seeing enough stories like that, you realize it for what it is: pure propaganda.

    Those illegal laborers will in fact stay in NOLA, assisted by forces who want to make money off them. That would include the Mexican government, who are probably jumping with joy knowing that they have yet another incipient profit and power center inside the U.S.

    If you want the best situation, you need to put pressure on politicians to do things like building more housing and even a WPA-style program. Of course, that would be a bit difficult because of the "two" party system. It would be absurdly easy for the Democratic Party to use Katrina to drive Bush's popularity into the 20s, but they're too stupid and corrupt to do it.



     
  • At 8:25 PM, Blogger Polimom said;

    Bardseyeview said:

    "These terribly unfortunate people can be aided mostly by open trade with Mexico and by political reform in Mexico. We can't solve everything, but we owe America's poor, our own poor, assistance first."

    We do owe our own poor assistance first. I agree totally.

    But every situation doesn't fit neatly into a mold - and New Orleans' needs are extreme. I am neither for nor against immigration reform (with this particular post), but merely hoping to see a city saved.



     
  • At 8:48 PM, Blogger The Master said;

    Brstarr, I agree with you that if there were not a whole lot of people out there that are willing to take any job, for pretty much any pay and working conditions, then the "worst" job and job conditions would look much better than they do now. Alas, there are a whole lot of people out there who want the jobs, despite their dreadful conditions.

    As for the "semi-slavery conditions", well, perhaps I'm confused, but as I recall the slaves were captured and forcibly transported to this country, forced to work, and held here against their will. Everything I read suggests that the illegal workers voluntarily came here, often at great risk, hardship, and personal cost. They stay here voluntarily, and if discovered, are forcibly expelled back to their native lands. That seems like an inversion of the commonly accepted definition of slavery to me.

    As to "lonewacko"'s not-to-be-taken-seriously proposal, well . . . importing a whole class of laborers, especially from an ethnic group that is "despised", or at least not considered on a par with those doing the importing, in order to do heavy labor has been tried before in the US of A. Polimom has lots to say on the race relations that are the result of that 400 year old decision. I doubt that repeating this "experiment" would have a happier outcome.

    Also, suggesting that we should "enforce our immigration laws" (strictly!) says to me that we need to handle the rebuilding of New Orleans with just the legal US workforce. However, that workforce, by and large, is already employed. The obvious exception to this is the people in NOLA who have lost their jobs, but who still have someplace to live (in or near the city). Since these people are already "on the ground", it makes perfect sense (and is good economics, as well as good public relations) to hire them FIRST for the cleanup work. However, the number of people available in and around NOLA is relatively small and the work that needs to be done is vast. If they have to do it all themselves, it will likely take a generation to finish the cleanup--assuming no other storms blow through before all is shipshape again.

    So, let's supplement their efforts. Let's start with the legal, but unemployed workers in the US. Given today's low unemployment rate, even if every unemployed able-bodied person in the US got on a bus and went to New Orleans to do unskilled labor, it still wouldn't solve the NOLA problem--not in any reasonable amount of time.

    If we have to stretch a fixed labor pool (i.e. the legal US workforce) over all the work already being done in the US plus the NOLA cleanup, the only way that will happen is by offering high enough pay to draw people away from the jobs they are currently doing and into NOLA to rip out moldy sheetrock. (All workers, including the unemployed NOLA folks would get these higher wages.) Once these "new" workers came to NOLA, that would leave their old jobs unfilled, so their old employers would be forced to raise the wages offered in order to compete with the (Federally subsidized?) NOLA cleanup. In a very real sense, the taxes of every small business person in the country would be used to hire away their own workforce (to the NOLA cleanup) and drive up their costs. This is highly inflationary, and might seem just a bit unfair to employers whose help were "bid away" from them by their own tax dollars. (It is also just the way it is most likely to actually happen, once the Feds get off the pot and make money available, thought experiments about using lots of illegal workers notwithstanding.)

    At the moment, there is vast uncertainty about the recovery effort in NOLA. The Feds are equivocating on how much they will do to fix the levees, and the money to implement the President's Jackson Square promises has been--to be charitable--very slow in coming, the city and state have no agreed upon plan, no priorities for all that must be done, and no money to pay for it. There is no assurance that flood insurance will be available for the damaged areas--at any price, let alone an affordable cost. The "code" to which repairs must be made, e.g. the amount houses will need to be raised when they are repaired, is not yet spelled out, so any work done now may have to be redone later. The barriers to moving ahead are legion.

    So what are the NOLA property owners to do? Continue to sit on their hands? Let their houses be consumed by rot and mould? Or do they find whoever they can who is willing to work, and get on with it? I say if they are prepared to move ahead, then go for it!

    So, if it makes sense to hire the (probably illegal) worker at the individual homeowner level, they why does it not make sense to have companies recruit bunches of illegals and bring them in to work? Yes they send money home, but they earn it. Its their's to do with as they like. If the idea of money leaving the US economy is troublesome, then one can take comfort in the fact that most of these folks pay into Social Security (hard to avoid that deduction, unless the wages are completely under the table) but they rarely, if ever try to claim the benefits. This helps to prop up the actuarially unsound Social Security system for those of us who do file for benefits.

    Of course, the idea of a company getting a Federal(?) contract to clean up NOLA and staffing the work with a swarm of illegal workers doesn't sit too well either. Perhaps a special "guest worker" program with 90 or 120 day visas? But that won't work either, unless the guest workers are not entitled to the same federal protections as legal workers. THAT will really polish up the image of the US government abroad! So perhaps what might work on the individual level can not (even conceptually) be scaled up and still work.

    The swarm of illegals descending on NOLA won't happen anyway. Due to the threat of companies being fined by the government (state and local) and by bad publicity, most (if not all) large companies will avoid illegals. The NOLA situation is too high profile. So, a thought experiment only . . .

    Meanwhile, the cleanup of NOLA waits . . . . maybe someday it will kick into gear.



     
  • At 8:04 AM, Blogger Jack said;

    There are laws governing how labor must be treated. If OSHA did it's job, and actually forced firms like KBR to provide a safe and clean working area, and the labor department enforced wage laws, more Americans would apply for the jobs.
    As long as we allow corps to take advantage of poor and desperate people, we'll have a problem like this.
    If the labor was treated fairly, and received a fair wage, sleeping in those conditions would not be necessary.

    Building a fence along the US Mexican border, and allowing a power-drunk vigalante"hero" to take potshots at poor people looking to feed themselves and their kids, will NOT work.



     
  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger Raven said;

    I work for a government contractor, or rather, a subcontractor for one`of the major ones out this way. I can say safely that the big contractor aren't the problem. I've worked in the office and handled most of the new hires. I know that these contractors have been working very hard to hire local workers. Locals, to them, make business sense. A local that lives off the job site doesn't need to be paid a per diem for living expenses (which can be five or six dollars an hour over an 84 hour week) and locals are less likely to get called back home suddenly, leave the job site before the work is done or generally disappear. In short, locals are cheaper and more efficient since these contracts have regulated pay rates.

    The problem is that there simply aren't enough local workers to do all that's required. All of these contractors are under very intense deadlines and need a lot of manpower immediately. They can't wait for the locals to come back and they're getting whatever labor they can at pretty much any price they can. I'm sure some small contractors are doing very unethical things, but the big guys are regulated in such a way that hiring locals is definitely to their advantage.

    I wish that there were more locals here to do the work, we all do here, but there just aren't. I don't know if illegal immigration steals jobs or not when looked at from the larger picture, but I know that no immigrant, illegal or otherwise, stole one on my jobsite. Hiring locals just makes better business sense and is better morally. We'd rather get them from New Orleans than just about anywhere else.

    That is definitely understood.

    Note to Jack: I know my job site has been visited by OSHA at least twice in the past few months. They are doing their job very well here, I have a feeling that a lot of these smaller, fly-by-night contractors that have swooped in might be gliding under their radar.



     
  • At 12:16 PM, Blogger LonewackoDotCom said;

    Hopefully "the master" could be a bit more concise in future replies.

    As for Social Security, Bush wants to make Mexican illegal aliens part of our system. In fact, they'll need to work far fewer quarters than American saps in order to get benefits.

    Companies don't need to worry about being fined for employing illegal aliens. The DHS rarely does workplace enforcement. And, right after Katrina Bush lifted Davis-Bacon and even gave companies throughout the U.S. a 45 day period during which they could hire anyone they wanted without facing "enforcement".

    And, if you go to katrinacoverage.com and click on the 'illegal aliens' tag, you'll find a couple dozen news reports about this situation. However, NONE of them are oriented against illegal labor flooding the region. In fact, a few of them are race-based cheerleading (Chavez, Navarrette, Rodriguez).

    And, on SEPTEMBER 15, Harry Reid spoke in support of those illegal aliens who are taking jobs that should go to American in the Gulf Coast.

    So, both parties and the news media support this. The fix is in.

    Slog your way through the hundreds of entries at the last site to see all the reasons why this situation is the last thing we should want.
    There is no bad



     
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