In their Care – Undocumented Workers
How Capitalism Forces US Women to Stand on the Shoulders of Illegal Women (Undocumented, Unprotected, and Low-Paid)
The immigration way to age with dignity
Jan 19th 2011, 14:25 by A.S. | NEW YORK
MANY Americans probably do not realise how dependent they are, or will be, on illegal immigrants. It is a familiar story when it’s revealed that a wealthy politician or political appointee once employed an illegal immigrant to do housework or work as a nanny. But even for those of us without an army of servants, the services low-skill immigrants provide looking after our children or caring for an aging parent play an important role in our economy. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 18% of low-skill home health care workers are immigrants. The actual figure is probably much higher because the 18% does not include illegal migrants who often work in this field.
Giovanni Peri has found that low-skill immigrants enhance productivity rather than detract from the welfare of American workers. More low-skill immigration leads to a more efficient allocation of labour because natives sort into higher-skilled and paid jobs (which are generally better matches for them), while immigrants take the low-paid jobs. But there’s also a second-order effect. Access to affordable child and elder care allows natives to work more at higher-paid jobs or pursue other productive activities. Take, for instance, a new mother who can return to work because she can afford an immigrant nanny. Economists Patricia Cortés and José Tessada found evidence that access to low-cost child care increased the labour supply of high-skilled native women. Leaving this service to natives would result in higher wages but also higher costs—enough so that some mothers could not afford to return to work.
The same is often true of elder care. Caring for an aging parent is difficult, time-consuming work, both physically and mentally. It can go on for many years. Pay for this work tends to be low and there exists little job security. This means that immigrants (both legal and illegal) make up a disproportionate share of those who care for the elderly.
As the American population ages, the unpleasant question will have to be answered: what to do with the Baby Boomers as they age and can no longer care for themselves? The typical Baby Boomer can not afford a private nurse or comfortable retirement homes. Without immigration the market does not provide many affordable and dignified long-term care options. Restricting immigration will probably result in more illegal immigrants providing care. This leaves the migrant and the elderly person they care for vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. More legal immigration also increases the tax base which takes some of the edge off of the burden of entitlement spending on current earners. Increased immigration of workers of all skills levels will help allow retirees to age and die with dignity.
Immigration Reform Now!