Jobs Americans Wont Do

Jobs Americans Wont Do
Media ran with administration catchphrase despite its obvious flaws.

By Amy Menefee
Business & Media Institute
June 7, 2006

     The much-criticized claim about jobs Americans wont do seems to have left the presidents vocabulary. But though opponents of illegal immigration call the jobs claim a myth, the network news media have adopted it as an argument that needed addressing.

     The American people are the ones hiring these people in many cases to do jobs they dont want to do, NBCs Matt Lauer reminded his Today guest on May 1. Few people question the ability of illegal immigrants to work hard and, according to labor statistics, work cheap on jobs most Americans are unwilling to do, said CBSs Byron Pitts on the April 10 Evening News.

     The media are famous for embracing political phrases and running with them but not usually those of George W. Bush. Back in 2004, Bush was saying there are good, honorable, hardworking people here doing jobs Americans wont do. He stuck with that phrase, but his language changed recently, as the CBS Evening News showed May 18. Weve got people sneaking across here because they want to work. And I think it makes sense for them to have an orderly way to come on a temporary basis to do jobs Americans arent doing.

     Though Bush has gone from jobs Americans wont do to arent doing, other administration officials havent gotten the memo. White House adviser Dan Bartlett appeared on CNNs The Situation Room May 26 saying, And we need to have a system that is above board, across the board that deals with the realities of our economy and the realities of workers who are doing jobs that Americans wont do.

     Even the left-leaning Pew Hispanic Center proved that point was incorrect. According to its March 2006 report, Unauthorized migrants make up a large share of all workers in a few more detailed occupational categories. They were 24% of all workers employed in farming occupations, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation industries. That means a vast majority of workers in those fields are legal and/or American.

     And if the United States were to lose a number of its low-paid illegal workers in those fields, experts say employers would adjust. Either higher wages would be offered to attract the existing pool of workers, or employers would become more efficient and employ fewer workers.

     Thats what Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said in a January 2004 column. CIS describes its approach as a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision. Krikorian reminded readers of a bit of immigration history:
The period from 1960 to 1975 (roughly from the end of the Bracero program, which imported Mexican farmworkers, to the beginning of the mass illegal immigration we are still experiencing today) was a period of considerable agricultural mechanization.

     As for Americans job choices, its not about immigrants taking jobs, Heritage Foundation labor policy analyst Tim Kane told the Business & Media Institute. Its really more about Americans choosing new paths for themselves, seeking higher education and different types of work.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went even further at a May gathering of union leaders. There he claimed Americans wouldnt pick lettuce even for $50 an hour. As the Los Angeles Times reported May 18, When some in the crowd angrily dissented, McCain demurred: You cant do it, my friends. Three dozen demonstrators later showed up at the senators Phoenix office, bearing lettuce-picker applications as well as heads of lettuce.

     Those dissenters saw the absurdity of the argument, though some in the media did not. The NBC Nightly News gave it a hearing on April 10. Many argue that immigrants take jobs that Americans wont do at wages Americans wont accept, Brian Williams said. Carl Quintanilla soon followed with: Pick 20 workers in the U.S. at random, and one of them is an illegal immigrant, doing jobs most Americans wouldnt take for wages they wouldnt want.

     At the end of the story, Quintanilla undermined his own implication about the illegal workers effect. He said, Most economists agree whether it helps or hurts, immigrations effect on the U.S. economy is small. There simply arent enough immigrants to make a dent.