Can American workers “cut it” in today’s labor market? Not according to an anonymous aide for Marco Rubio, who was recently quoted by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker making the case for the Senate’s immigration reform bill.
“There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it. There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer,” the unnamed aide told Lizza. “There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it.” The “it,” here, is the sort of low-paying, labor-intensive work that Latino immigrants in cities and towns across the country are doing.
Rubio has already denounced the comment, and a (presumably different) aide told the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis that Rubio “has always said the reason we need a robust temporary worker program is to create legal avenues for US businesses to meet labor needs when not enough Americans apply for jobs.”
Put aside the political damage the particular quotation may have done as Rubio and other immigration-reform advocates try to convince skeptical conservatives to support their proposal. Is it actually true that more immigrants are needed to fill the jobs “real” Americans refuse to take?
I recently spent a week in northwestern North Dakota, where an oil boom is bringing an unprecedented amount of economic growth and societal change to the area. The boom hasn’t sparked growth in just the energy sector--real estate, construction, health care, retail, hospitality, infrastructure, and tourism are all booming, too. The downside, particularly for native North Dakotans, is that prices have shot up for everything from groceries to rent to gasoline. The upside is that wages across all those industries are up, as well, including those for low-skill workers. The Walmart in Williston, for example, is hiring entry-level employees at no less than $17.50 an hour, and fast-food employees can expect wages in the same ballpark. Construction crews pay well, and so do hotels for maids and cleaning staff. Through word-of-mouth, unemployed or underemployed Americans are flocking to North Dakota to get hired.
So those jobs that Americans “can’t” and “won’t” do, the jobs that only immigrant labor can fill, the jobs that require the passage of a large legislative package hammered out among representatives of Big Labor and Big Business? In North Dakota, at least, they’re being filled by Americans from Florida and Wisconsin and Washington and Arizona and Texas and Minnesota. It’s true that some of them are Hispanic immigrants, but many, perhaps even most, aren’t. They’re not all young men in their twenties, either. Many I met are middle-aged, blue-collar Americans who were out of options and opportunities back home. Migrating to rural North Dakota, with no connections and meager prospects, these workers have taken significant risks to find work. And they might be outraged to hear a staff member of a U.S. senator in Washington suggest that they and others like them “can’t cut it.”
What North Dakota shows is that Americans will do these jobs, if the jobs are available and the wages are right.