Wrong Problem. Wrong Solution.

I intermittently listen to the news while driving, and heard several stories on NPR’s All Things Considered, regarding a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on poultry processing plants in Mississippi. This caught my ear:

“The industry is totally dependent on finding workers who will not raise issues and who, to a degree, live in fear of the company and they’ll just keep their head down and do the work,” [Debbie] Berkowitz says. “For the last 30 years that’s been immigrant labor.”

Chicken Plants See Little Fallout From Immigration Raids

Next, in A Look At The E-Verify Program And Its Blind Spots, economist Madeline Zavodny suggested the addition of biometric data to E-Verify as a means of increasing its effectiveness.

Adding biometrics to our identification papers won’t fix the working conditions in slaughterhouses–decriminalizing immigration might help–though it might possibly improve the accuracy of E-Verify, if we ignore the significant problems with biometric identification. It seems foolish to trust that the industry would prefer the plausible deniability that E-Verify gives them, and some people in power really like the illusion of control, so I expect we’ll soon leave our spit on the I-9 form.

Yet for some reason the problem under discussion seems to be that jobs are being filled by immigrants rather than that this work is hard, dangerous, and poorly compensated. So instead of asking why immigrants do this work, or being willing to pay more for our food, or buying whole chicken instead of individually wrapped thinly sliced chicken breast tenders, we focus on trying to control who can be hired, then punish the employee instead of the, ostensibly ignorant, employer.

America has had a labor problem since Europeans first looked on this continent as a resource to be exploited. Without people to do the work, how can we exploit it? If no one wants to do the work, for the wages paid, then make them. Seems straightforward, right?

Statistical Enquiry of the Devil’s Playground

Certain laws and regulations, and policies related to those, have a non-trivial impact on statistics which are not normally thought of in concert with those laws. For example, mandatory sentencing increases incarceration rates, which in turn will decrease the employable population. Child labor laws directly impact the employable population, but so do mandatory attendance requirements for high school.

How does the unemployment rate of the United States compare to other nations when differences in incarceration rates and school attendance are taken into account?

Or, where do these people find the time to riot?