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Are Latinos Saving Nebraska’s Economy?

Dan Mulhall owns a plant nursery and landscaping firm. He employs about 200 seasonal employees, who usually work for nine months a year. Mulhall says he’s tried to comply with immigration law, applying for temporary work visas for his workers. But the visas run out quickly and it’s hard to find all the workers he needs among Nebraska’s residents. So two years ago, an immigration audit found more than forty of his workers were not authorized to work in the US and he had to fire them. The workers went to work for a local competitor.

“I won’t begrudge the guys or gals for doing that,” says Mulhall. “I’m glad they didn’t have to leave. It’s just the system doesn’t make sense to us, it doesn’t work.”

Nebraska’s Latino population has increased rapidly in the past two decades. There are not near 200,000 Latinos, roughly more than ten percent the total state population. Most of the growth comes from native-born Latinos, but also from immigration from other US states.

“Nebraska is a state that desperately loses population,” says Lourdes Gouveia, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “If it was not for immigration it would’ve lost population the last two censuses.”

Like other studies on immigration economics in the United States, several studies from the University of Nebraska show that Latino immigration has had a positive impact on the state’s economy. “The data is incontrovertible: immigrants contribute two and a half billion plus a year to production to the state,” says Goveia. “They generate nearly 20,000 jobs and they pay taxes a little above of what they receive in benefits.” The studies, however, do not distinguish between documented and undocumented immigrants.

A big example of the Latino immigrants’ impact on the economy is the state’s meatpacking industry. During the 1970s, the sector’s unions were busted. The wages plummeted, the benefits and pensions disappeared and the jobs stopped being attractive to locals. So in the 1980s, industry leaders revamped the sector, moving factories to the countryside into towns like Fremont and Lexington in Nebraska. To find the new workforce, they turned to Latino immigrants in California, Texas, and soon they even moved south of the border.

The industry’s new reality is that the cattlemen and meatpacking factory owners would struggle to fill the jobs without the new Latino workforce. 

Opponents of immigration turn to the Federation for American Immigration Reform – FAIR – for numbers against immigration. FAIR believes this incoming undocumented immigrant workforce is actually hurting the state’s economy, and that it’s the cause of declining wages and the quality of jobs. Their studies say that business owners pocket the profits while American taxpayers are left to pick up the check for healthcare and school for the incoming undocumented Latino immigrants.  

“What we are doing is creating a subsidized labor pool for a lot of industries,” says Ira Mehlman, FAIR spokesperson. “These are not mom and pop shops. And it’s another form of subsidy.”

FAIR advocates for a return to high-paying jobs in sectors of the economy. And they want reforms and law enforcement that will make undocumented workers leave on their own. “If you make it clear to people that even if you can get into the United States illegally, you’re not going to get a job because the government is out there policing the labor force, the jobs are going to dry up,” says Mehlman.

The University of Nebraska’s studies find that the foreign-born workforce in the state put more money in through income, gas and sales taxes than they take in social services. It’s also unlikely that wages will hike in the near future, attracting more of the native-born workforce. But what is certain is that the new immigrant workforce has become vital to many of Nebraska’s key industries.

Even as Nebraska’s Latino population grows, the state will remain predominantly white, even in 2060 when Latinos become 25 percent of the population. Lourdes Goveia says that the new Latino workforce is the new reality of the state, and that the immigrants have become an easy target for political electioneering from outside the state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images 

NOTICIANDO: NAFTA, DO WE HAFTA?

The impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on economies, industries and labor markets across the three countries involved is still a hot issue among experts. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research weighs the pros and cons of NAFTA, 20 years later.


Click here to download this week’s show.

Dean Baker is the author of The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, Taking Economics Seriously, False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy, Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy, Social Security: The Phony Crisis (with Mark Weisbrot), and The Benefits of Full Employment (with Jared Bernstein).

He was the editor of Getting Prices Right: The Debate Over the Consumer Price Index, which was a winner of a Choice Book Award as one of the outstanding academic books of the year. He appears frequently on TV and radio programs, including CNN, CBS News, PBS NewsHour, and National Public Radio. His blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan.

NOTICIANDO: RECESSION RECOVERY

We’ve seen a lot of coverage about immigrant workers being hit the hardest by the recession, but what about recovery? A recent report by the Urban Institute found that immigrant workers are recovering faster than native-born workers despite suffering greater unemployment. For more on the report, we speak to María Enchautegui, Senior Associate at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.


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María E. Enchautegui is an economist with expertise in the area of immigration. She also studies the working conditions of low-wage work. Prior to joining the Urban Institute she served as Senior Economic Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor. She also served as professor of Economics at the University of Puerto Rico, where she did her undergraduate work. She holds a PHD in Economics from Florida State University.

Enchautegui is particularly interested in the economics of immigration from the standpoint of the relationship between different population groups in the labor market, the functioning of the low-wage labor market and the factors that promote employment. She has published on the economic impacts of immigration, job quality, nonstandard work schedules, and informal work.

Fi2W Podcast: For Latino Voters it’s Immigration & the Economy, Not Necessarily in that Order

Fi2W’s John Rudolph sat down with Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center to preview the discussion we’ll be hearing next Thursday, October 18 at the “Unlocking the Latino Vote” town hall
at The New School.

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The Latino vote could determine who becomes the next president. According to Lopez, Latinos helped Obama in key states in 2008 and Harry Reid in Nevada in 2010. Most Latinos don’t live in this year’s battleground states—at least half of all Latino voters live in California or Texas—but in contested states like Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, demographic shifts since ‘08 have pushed up the share of Latino eligible voters. This could have a major impact, Lopez says.

The Latino vote is closely tied to the issue of immigration but the economy, education and healthcare are all issues Latinos respond to strongly.

One of the reasons immigration ranks so high says Hong is that it remains unresolved. In 2008, Obama promised to pass reform within his first year in office. Instead he oversaw a record number of deportations. Jobs and healthcare, she says, are important but “immigration remains a litmus test for whether a candidate cares about Latinos.”

“If a candidate comes out opposing the DREAM Act, it’s not just a policy position,” she says.  DREAMers represent the pride and joy of Latino and immigrant communities and if someone comes out against the DREAM Act, like Romney did, it has major repercussions. For this reason, Hong doesn’t expect Romney to get the 40 percent support among Latinos that George W. Bush got.

According to Lopez, the economic downturn has had major ramifications for Latino communities: Right now more Latino children live in poverty than any other group – a first for Latinos. More wealth was lost in the recession by Latinos than any other group. And while there has been improvement in Latino unemployment, it is still two points above the national average of 7.8 percent.

But Lopez says, despite being hard hit by the downturn there remains strong support for the president across every Latino demographic group, except the traditionally more conservative groups like Cuban Americans and protestant Latinos.

According to Hong, support for Democrats among immigrants is not a given. However, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has proven very popular. Close to 100,000 young people have applied, meaning a large bloc of people will soon be getting work permits and protection from deportation.

Click the image to RSVP for the townhall discussion.

According to Hong, a vast majority of immigrant citizens know someone who’s undocumented and consequently know someone who’s eligible to get a work permit through DACA. Similarly, says Hong, the movement in many states to disenfranchise minority voters through shorter voting hours and stricter ID laws could backfire. When people feel attacked, as they did in Nevada in 2010 and in Arizona now, she says, it is a powerful motivating factor to show up and vote.

According to Lopez’s research, a majority of Latinos say they would support Obama over Mitt Romney in a head to head contest. Democrats are still seen as the better party for Hispanics than Republicans and polls have shown stable support for Obama among Latinos over the last ten months. But how many Hispanics will vote? Hard to predict, but because of demographic changes, Lopez thinks it’s likely we will see more Latino voters than we did in 2008.

Hong thinks health care tends to be overlooked when discussing issues Latinos care about. Obama’s health care reform, when implemented, will see an 18 percent increase in the number of Latinos covered. Many Latinos work in places where employers don’t offer healthcare and, Hong believes, Romney’s pledge to repeal Obamacare will lose him support. But how Romney talks about immigration reform, as he’s promised to do in the upcoming debate could greatly affect how Latinos vote in November.

The Oct. 18 town hall is cosponsored by Latino USAAmericas Society/Council of the Americas, and the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs and Global Studies programs.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

Aaron Leaf is a freelance writer and editor who has reported on human rights issues from Zambia, Liberia, Canada and Peru. He is a graduate of Ryerson University and the former editor of Ricepaper, a journal of Asian Canadian arts and culture.

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