Immigrants, Jobs and Local Economies: Not So Simple

By Lisa Howard

During the early days of the Great Depression, when many Americans were desperate to find jobs, state and local officials in the United States began forcibly repatriating Mexicans, including American citizens of Mexican descent, to Mexico. Between 1929 and 1935, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans left the United States. Some estimates put the number at 500,000 to over a million.

Latino farmworkers 1930s

Mexicans picking cantaloupes in Imperial Valley, California, May 1937. Although the intent of Mexican repatriation was to create more jobs for Americans, a UC Davis study shows most native-born workers didn’t take the jobs left behind by Mexican laborers. (Credit: Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress)

Higher wages for farm workers would cost you next to nothing

It’s been argued that American farms need cheap imported labor to keep food prices low. But in an online debate at the New York Times, UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin makes the case that increasing farmworkers’ wages by 40 percent would have an almost negligible effect on your grocery bill.

If farm wages rose 40 percent, and this wage increase were passed on to consumers, average spending on fresh fruits and vegetables would rise about $15 a year, the cost of two movie tickets. However, for a typical seasonal farm worker, a 40 percent wage increase could raise earnings from $10,000 for 1,000 hours of work to $14,000 — lifting the wage above the federal poverty line.

The Great H1 Visa Debate

Are visas for foreign technology workers vital to America’s economy, or a way of undermining the salaries of US-born engineers? Five immigration experts, including UC Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, have been debating the issue on the New York Times immigration blog.

Saturday’s NY Times carried the story of Google engineer Sanjay Mavinkurve, who is currently living in Canada and commuting to Google because under U.S. immigration law, his wife would not be allowed to work if they moved to the U.S..

Matloff is unimpressed: he says that the H-1B visa category is actually a way to bring cheap labor to the tech industry.