The San Diego Union Tribune this weekend wrote:
"A study released last month by the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, based on data from 2005 to 2007, shows that at that time there were roughly 680,000 immigrants in San Diego County, legal and illegal. More than half came from Mexico and Central America, with relatively small percentages coming from other areas, led by the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Canada.
In total, they constituted 27 percent of the local work force in 2005-07, including 62 percent of the county’s farm workers, 60 percent of machine operators and fabricators, and 43 percent of construction workers — at a time when that industry was still booming.
Nearly one-quarter of the county’s immigrants at that time were in low-wage service occupations, including hamburger flippers, nursing aides, janitors and hotel maids. They earned an average of $18,625 annually, slightly above the minimum wage and 16 percent lower than the $22,262 paid to U.S.-born workers.
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The wage gap was even broader in construction. The study estimated that immigrants were paid $31,042 per year, 25 percent less than the $41,389 average of their U.S.-born counterparts.
Although the vast majority of those immigrant workers were legal, the low-wage jobs attracted a greater percentage of illegal immigrants. A nationwide study by the Pew Research Center last year shows that 30 percent of illegal immigrants go into service jobs, compared with 17 percent of legal immigrants. Twelve percent take production jobs, versus 5 percent of legal immigrants.
The ready availability of low-paid immigrant workers keeps a damper on wage growth in those occupations. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, said the main people facing the brunt of that impact are low-skilled workers with less than a high school education, since those jobs typically don’t attract higher-skilled, U.S.-born workers. The study found that the stream of new immigrants into the U.S. economy reduces the salary potential of low-educated immigrants but has relatively little impact on native-born workers.
The study found that the only U.S.-born group to be affected by immigration in California was men without a high school education, whose wages were estimated to be 2.9 percent lower than if they weren’t competing with immigrants.
“In terms of income, the aggregate impact on the economy is very small — a fraction of a percent of the gross domestic product,” said Gordon Hanson, director of the Center on Pacific Economies at the University of California San Diego. “Most unauthorized immigrants are the educational equivalent of high school dropouts, meaning they’re competing with less than 10 percent of the U.S. population.”
Hanson added that illegal workers fill certain needs in the economy since they tend to be more willing to travel to the best job opportunities and their numbers ebb and flow with the economy. He said that theoretically, those needs could be solved through legal immigration, but U.S. visa programs are so slow and cumbersome that they don’t match the demand for workers.
One of the other major economic arguments concerning illegal immigrants is that they don’t pay their fair share in taxes but rely on taxpayer-provided services, including public schools and hospital emergency rooms. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports greater restrictions on immigration, says the cost to California alone comes to $10.5 billion per year."