As I see it
The first thing I want to make clear in this column is that I have nothing against any racial or ethnic group wishing to live in this country. My concern is strictly with the numbers of immigrants and the effect those numbers will have on the quality of life of our children and grandchildren.
The immigration plan recently proposed by President George W. Bush is not only morally wrong because it would have the effect of rewarding illegal immigrants for breaking the law, but it will have a disastrous impact on the future livability of our country.
The 2000 census of the U.S. population is 281.4 million, which, at current growth rates, will exceed 300 million by mid-2006. Population studies indicate that without immigration, the U.S. population would peak at around 325 million in about 20 years, and would then begin a slow decline.
But with continued immigration at current levels, we will be approaching half a billion people in this country by 2050 ” well within the lifetime of today’s school children.
What kind of a country is this going to be with half a billion people in it?
Just visualize the highway congestion, the open space and agricultural land that will be covered with homes to house an additional 200 million people, the shortages of water, energy and heating fuel created by the demands of an additional 200 million people, the increase in water and air pollution, and the pressures on our national forests and parks and the wildlife they now harbor. Is that a country you would want to live in?
The argument advanced to justify Bush’s immigration plan is that we need cheap labor to sustain our economy.
About 150 years ago, when the United States was embarking on industrialization on a scale never before imagined, we were essentially an agrarian society. Only 1.5 million people out of a population of around 25 million (6 percent) lived in cities of 50,000 or more. The other 94 percent lived on farms and in the small towns that served them, and there was no pool of people to work the mines and factories.
So there was a tremendous need to import the tens of millions of workers needed by industry in the decades between 1850 and 1930. And since none of the social programs that are in place today existed then, this immigration came at virtually no cost to the public.
But that is no longer true. There is a pool of at least 8 million unemployed or underemployed workers in the United States today.
The claim is that we need “cheap labor” to fill the jobs “nobody wants.” This claim is false on two counts. First, if the jobs nobody supposedly wants paid a decent wage, there would be people to fill them. And second, there is no such thing as “cheap labor” when all the costs are factored in.
It is true that if agricultural and service jobs paid well, food and services would cost more. But look at the hidden costs associated with so-called cheap labor that we are all paying.
It has been estimated that the social costs for education, health care, unemployment benefits, food stamps and earned income credits, and social security for those in minimum-wage jobs (who therefore pay little if any taxes) currently run as much as $200 billion a year, which amounts to over $700 per person for those who are paying the taxes that cover those costs.
If those filling “cheap labor” jobs were paid a decent wage, they would be paying taxes, and the negative drain would be only a fraction of $200 billion per year. And none of these figures include the inestimable cost of congestion, pollution, resource shortages and overcrowding.
But this is an election year, and the Bush plan is popular with big industrial contributors and is aimed at gaining large numbers of Hispanic votes. For this he is willing to mortgage the future livability of this wonderful country, just as he is busy mortgaging its economic future.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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