Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rethinking my Rethinking

I am, by trade, an electronic technician. After I left the Air Force, I got a job in New Mexico, where I eventually earned about $17 an hour as a bench technician and Engineer’s assistant. That job, which held for eleven years, looked as if it would be a career in which I had a comfortable living and a fairly nice retirement package. However, the company I worked for had been involved in building ships for the US Navy, during WWII, and had built those ships with materials and specifications required by the US Department of Defense. Because the government required the use of asbestos in the construction of its ships, the company I worked for succumbed to a combination of NAFTA and asbestos litigation in 1992, and ended my career, with my lucrative retirement package lining the pockets of trial attorneys. And it wasn’t even my fault.
Because the field of electronics in which I worked at Eagle-Picher was very specialized, and because, thinking that I had a life-long career, I failed to keep my electronic qualifications updated--which was my fault--I found that I could not get a job in my chosen field. Most electronics companies have outsourced their bench technician jobs to other countries, where the labor is cheaper.
So, now I am working in a job in which I make $6.50 an hour, which is fine, since I don’t have family to support. I still have a roof over my head, and I can still eat pretty well, and I can afford somewhat of a social life, but basically it is a frugal life. This is the kind of job for which the President, business leaders, economists, and many Congressional politicians say we need illegal immigrants, because Americans won’t take it. Heck, I don’t think illegal immigrants will take this one. Not when they can make $8 to $10 an hour picking fruit, or $10 to $12 an hour working construction.
I was shocked upon hearing these figures quoted by several television news commentaters. It had been my thought that the reason some employers were hiring illegal immigrants was to avoid documentation and, therefore, avoid paying minimum wage or payroll taxes. Therefore, I thought, the US agricultural industry could keep its costs down, staying competitive with foreign agricultural industries. The philosophical Libertarian in me thought that this would be okay, considering the state of world economics these days.
But these employers are paying payroll taxes and well over minimum wage in these cases. So why don’t they forego hiring the illegals and hire Americans? Are American workers too greedy to settle for a $10 an hour job? If that is the case, then wouldn’t these seasonal jobs be good for young adults who wish to earn money for their education? I don’t have any answers for these questions. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
The pragmatic Libertarian in me is appalled at the cost in tax dollars in education and health care for those who do not contribute all that much to the American economy. So I had to rethink my stance on the proposed “guest worker” program. I had been leaning toward approval for the proposal, keeping in mind that it would help prevent inflation. However, I see that there is really no point in employing a foreign worker when there are American workers available. To me, it seems as though the entire immigrant worker issue was raised just to create a point of debate during the campaigns for the upcoming elections. I don’t see the issue being resolved in a reasonable and useful manner until after the November elections, if at all.
What it comes down to is personal responsibility on both the part of the consumer and the employer. Boycotts work. It doesn’t have to be a widespread boycott, just enough to catch the attention of the employer. A publicized announcement of a boycott is often enough to catch the attention of those who illegally hire undocumented workers. And it is easy enough to figure which brand names to boycott--those whose plants and operations were shut down on May 1rst, such as Tyson Foods. The decision to boycott requires personal responsibility on the part of the consumer, while the decision to avoid losing money, or favorable public image, by curtailing illegal employment practices, becomes the responsibility of the employers. The consumers must realize that what we chose to buy or not to buy can be as important a vote as that which we cast on election day.