When Illegal Immigration Trends Converge

What happens if trends concerning (1) public school growth driven by illegal immigration, (2) the dropout rate for Hispanic students and (3) the projected U.S. demand for unskilled labor all converge?  No one knows the answer, and few are even asking the question.  First, here are the key trends.

Public School Growth Driven by Illegal Immigration

From 1993-2003, a veritable wave  of Hispanic students rolled into public schools, representing 64% of all new student enrollments. Their share of total enrollment in primary and secondary schools grew from 12.7% in 1993 to 19.2% in 2004.  By 2004, Hispanic students had surpassed the number of black students.  If there are no shifts in birth/death rates or in immigration policies, this wave will become a tsunami.

"Among children, the share who are immigrants or who have an immigrant parent will rise to 34% in 2050 from 23% in 2005.  The share of children who are Hispanic, 20% in 2005, will rise to 35% in 2050."

Question: Academically, how are Hispanic students doing?

Answer: Just fair - not great.  The "Nations Report Card," 
compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, finds Hispanics doing slightly better than black students, and more than slightly worse that whites. From 2000-2005, 8th and 12th grade Hispanic students showed no improvement in science, and only slight increases in math and reading scores. For the last decade, they've remain positioned between white and black students in academic achievement.

The Dropout Rate for Hispanic Students 

Question: Are they finishing high school?  

Answer. Most are - many are not.  Hispanic students lead 
black and white students in dropout rates.  In 2005, 3 of every 4 Hispanic dropouts were foreign born. The increase in Hispanic students, coupled with their dropout rate, contributed significantly to a decline in the high school completion rate  from 77.1% in 1969 to 69.9% in 2000. This reversed an upward trend that dated back to 1870, begun shortly after the Civil War.

The Projected U.S. Demand for Unskilled Labor 

Question: Do Hispanic dropouts find work?  

Answer:  Most do - many do not. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 
1 of every 3 Hispanics not enrolled in school when they were 20 years old in October during the years 2000-2005 was unemployed (33.1%). They face circumstances that all dropouts face. The Policy & Research Center of the Educational Testing Service (the Graduate Record Exam people) describes the situation  this way:

"At the same time that the dropout rate is increasing and out-of-school education and training opportunities are dwindling, the economic status of young dropouts has been in a free fall since the late 1970s.  Employment and earnings prospects have declined [over the last three decades], with earnings declining in absolute terms and also relative to the incomes of those with more education."

Question: Looking ahead, what will be the demand for unskilled labor? 

Answer: Not promising.  From 2006-2016, the portion of Hispanics in the labor force is projected 
to grow from 13.7% to 16.4%.  Meanwhile, the vocational supersectors expected to experience the greatest growth ("education and health services" and "professional and business services") will generally require, at a minimum, a high school education.  Supersectors where unskilled Hispanics experience the highest level of employment today, construction and agriculture, are expected to grow a modest 10.6% and decline 2.8%, respectively.  

So, what happens if these trends converge?

Eventually, the supply of low-skilled, uneducated workers will meet and exceed demand.  Will that trigger a return of manufacturing jobs outsourced off-shore? Not likely. Then where will the growing number of low-skilled, uneducated illegal immigrants, and their U.S. born children, find work within a job market requiring higher levels of skill and education?  No one has an answer, and few are even asking the question.

One particular sentence in the latest Pew Research Center population   rings my alarm bell.

"Demographic change has major implications for government spending in key areas such as schools, health programs, community services, infrastructure and Social Security."

But that warning only lists implications for key areas of "government spending."  What about the consequences related to unemployment, poverty, crime, housing, and public health?  Big decisions in the lives of individuals and nations often bring unintended consequences - some good, some not.  The full scope of negative consequences takes time to surface. 

Future historians will ask, "What were the nation's leaders thinking when they tacitly adopted an open borders policy that, in a relatively short period of time, dramatically altered the national demographics?"  Among answers offered will be these:

Politically, Democrats sought to gain a fresh pool of voters to strengthen their power base, while Republicans were serving the business interests of their supporters. Economically, employers sought cheap labor to cut the costs of compliance with employment laws.  Consumers desired the lower prices for goods and services brought by cheap labor.  In short, a joint effort with varying, intersecting motives drove immigration policy.

Sociologists will suggest that an open border policy in the late 20th - early 21st Centuries was influenced by those who believed that firm borders represent a nationalism that promotes war, and perpetuates the international gaps between haves and havenots.

Economist may say that unhindered movement across borders promotes free competition among labor sources, and aids the spread of global economic prosperity. 

Anthropologists will explain how the U.S. demographic shift was a small portion of the huge, global migratory movements of peoples begun in the 20th Century.

One well-known American politician addressed the illegal immigration challenge in his book entitled A Colony of the World: The United States Today.

"The United States cannot regain its competitive standing in the world by importing low wage workers from other countries. On the one hand, it engenders conditions this country cannot and should not tolerate...On the other hand, in the modern age a nation's wealth and prosperity is secured by high worker productivity and capital investment, not by the availability of low-wage labor." (p.71)

Think that was written by Pat Buchanan? 

No, the author was former Minnesota Senator and once presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, copyrighted 1992.