Living in L.A. and Homeless

An article was recently published in the Los Angeles Times titled “L.A. County Homelessness Soars.” According to the Times, the number of homeless persons surged from 34,000 in 2016 to nearly 58,000 today. We at PFIR are disheartened by the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles, and strongly believe that something should be done to correct the matter.  Although the paper cited things like increasing housing costs and stagnant wages as causes, truth-be-told these are not the “causes.”  Rather, they are merely symptoms.  The causes run much, much deeper.  

One cause that stretches back to the mid-1990s is the outsourcing of jobs overseas to countries with low wages and few if any workplace safety or environmental regulations.  As Charles Hugh Smith aptly stated in his book, Why Our Status Failed and is Beyond Reform, the “mobility of capital is an enormous benefit to the owners of the capital, but it creates extraordinary instability for those who are not as mobile.  When mobile capital encounters anything that reduces profits – higher taxes and rising labor costs, competition or restrictive regulations – it closes factories and fires workers in that locale and shifts to another locale with greater opportunities for high returns. . . The advantage of mobility is reserved for capital, and to the relatively limited cohort of workers who can immigrate to other nations to find work.”

Which brings us to another cause – IMMIGRATION.  Many of Los Angeles County’s chronic homeless live in a 54 block area known as “Skid Row,” making it one of the largest populations of homeless in the entire country. The citizens of Skid Row represent the most vulnerable of our population.  For the past three decades those on the bottom rungs of America’s economic ladder have been forced to compete against a large supply of immigrants (both legal and illegal) who have been only too happy to work for less.  Unsurprisingly, the native workforce has been losing out.  Nearly 1.5 million foreign born persons reside in Los Angeles County, and estimates made by the Migration Policy Institute indicate that 1 million of that number are unauthorized immigrants. After all, why hire a citizen when a foreign worker can be hired for less?

In 1993 the Commission on Immigration Reform (later referred to as the Jordan Commission) convened for the first time to closely study and make recommendations on how best to reform America’s immigration policy.  To assist the Commission with its research, the National Academy of Sciences convened a panel of experts to assess the demographic, economic, and fiscal consequences of current immigration levels.  One of their conclusions was that post-1965 immigrants caused the low skilled segment of the nation’s labor supply to swell. That is to say, immigrant workers on average were lowering the wages of all workers, with wages of low skilled workers — citizen and non-citizen alike — being lowered the most.  

In 1997 the Jordan Commission (Which we have discussed on a previous post) released its findings and recommendations.  According to Vernon Briggs, Jr., Emeritus Professor of Labor Economics, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, some of these recommendations were quite compelling.  For instance:

Except where there is “a compelling national interest” to do so (i.e., the admission of “immediate family members” such as spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens as well those of refugees), the Commission concluded that it makes no sense for economic efficiency reasons to add to this pool by admitting other would-be adult immigrants to this large low-skilled labor pool. Likewise, equity considerations also require that “a higher level of job protections should be made available to the most vulnerable in our society” [Commission (1995), p.8]. Since so many of the adult immigrant population are poorly educated, it is the poorly educated and unskilled citizen and permanent resident segment of the nation’s workforce who bear the brunt of the “unfair competition” of the existing immigration admission system and its massive abuse by illegal immigrants.

The members of the Jordan Commission understood all too well the negative impact unbridled immigration could have on workers.  The Jordan Commission articulated the standard that “a credible” immigration policy must meet if it is to truly serve the national interest: “people who should get in do get in; people who should not get in are kept out; and people who are judged deportable are required to leave” [Commission (1997, p.59].

Sadly, the Commission’s findings and recommendations were filed away and few if any were acted upon. Over twenty years later we are living with those consequences as well as consequences of other misdeeds and missed opportunities of our ruling elite. In order to begin effectively combating the issue of unemployment, and with it homelessness, we must work to prevent companies from exploiting cheap, foreign, and illegal labor. Loopholes must be closed, and verification of employees must be mandatory.  In the meantime while these loopholes remain and corporate entities continue to exploit them, American citizens and immigrants alike go without living wages and homes.

(Photography attributed to Kevin Lynn)


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