An unspectacular Bureau of Labor Statistics November report casts doubt on the health of the job market in 2019. The economy added 155,000 jobs, fewer than Wall Street projected, but not few enough to affect the 49-year low 3.7 percent unemployment rate.
In short, with workers’ average hourly earnings increasing over the year by 3.1 percent, the November report was not bad, but far from spectacular. As has been the case for months, many of the jobs are part-time and in low-paying service sectors that have no health care or other benefits.
Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick told CNBC that nervous-about-their-status workers should evaluate future job opportunities, or the lack of them, in light of workplace advancements in automation. Hamrick pointed to General Motors which made headline news when it announced plans to cut more than 14,000 jobs next year, noting the layoffs don’t reflect business failings, but rather the auto industry’s greater reliance on automation and adjusting to a changing industry.
An interesting counter-argument claims that artificial intelligence creates jobs, and that mass automation/human worker displacement would mean that consumer markets would shrink to levels unacceptable to corporate America. Therefore, the argument concludes, big business will avoid extended mass layoffs since, in the end, it hurts their revenue stream.
But others point to over-immigration as the primary job loss culprit. Annually adding about 1 million work-authorized lawful permanent residents into the labor pool, plus another 750,000 employment-based visa holders like H-1Bs and L-1As issued to high- and low-skilled workers has unnecessarily created unending, stiff job competition. Employers have gotten ultra-savvy, and shamelessly bold, about breaking immigration laws since they know being caught and getting penalized is a long shot. For example, the auto industry abused the B-1/B-2 visa to bring in Eastern Europeans as plant employees even though the visa specifically forbids employment.
Skeptics pose reasonable questions about the short- and long-term wisdom of immigration’s auto-pilot nature. Every year, regardless, more than a million people arrive. Congress only evaluates immigration levels in terms of increasing them, never reducing. Even today, during the lame duck session, three GOP senators and one GOP U.S. House representative have put forward a proposal to double the low-skill H-2B visa from 66,000 per year to 132,000. Read another way, that’s potentially 132,000 jobs that low-skilled Americans won’t have a shot at.
Another job killer is outsourcing – sending U.S. jobs abroad to India, China, and the Philippines, among other locations. IBM employs more workers in India than in the U.S. In New York, once a manufacturing giant, the state’s working base has been moved to China. At least 183,500 good-paying factory jobs have been lost since 2000. Nationwide, New York ranks behind California and Texas in the most-quality-jobs-lost category. Analysts cite China’s unfair trade practices and $31 billion trade surplus with the U.S. for the 3.4 million mostly middle-class American jobs wiped out between 2001 and 2017. According to an Economic Policy Institute report, every state and congressional district suffered job losses.
In his January New York Times story, Angus Deaton wrote that, by global standards, there are “5.3 million Americans who are absolutely poor.” Immigration doesn’t help those 5.3 million people or the many millions more that live below the poverty line. Across the country, the black unemployment rate is at least twice the white rate, and in the District of Columbia, the rate is 12.4 percent.
The annual immigrant intake should reflect domestic economic and societal conditions. More immigration doesn’t help the 5.3 million absolutely poor or unemployed Black Americans. But since Congress refuses to engage in an intelligent immigration discussion that includes evaluating how increased immigration harms American workers, the U.S. will get more immigration in 2019, and each year thereafter for the foreseeable future.