May 21, 2018
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Not enough smart Americans? Don’t buy it

By jonette christian

The Partnership for the New American Economy is a business advocacy organization created by billionaires Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and others. It includes the CEOs of the most powerful corporations in America: Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Goldman Sacks, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Marriott, Hearst, Boeing, Disney, etc. Get the picture? Think Big Money. And what do they want?

They want to “raise awareness of the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform,” and their website is a masterpiece of deception and misinformation. You don’t get to be the 1 percent if you aren’t very persuasive telling the story your way.

In short, they want to expand immigration of STEM workers: foreign scientists, tech workers, engineers and mathematicians. And to make their case, they need to convince Americans that we have dire labor shortages even in the midst of unprecedented unemployment, and that we are in danger of falling behind in the global competition for talent.

Many journalists simply parrot this without analyzing the facts. And our media is currently filled with stories about bogus “shortages.” Tell a lie often enough, and people believe it. And it’s easy to believe this one, we all know that math and science are hard, and foreign people are smarter than us. Right?

In Maine, a similar coalition of business elites has surfaced, calling themselves the Immigrant Business Advocacy Coalition. In slick seminars, they present their message that “immigration has tremendous economic implications for the state.” Obviously, more intellectual talent and entrepreneurship would be good for Maine. But does that talent have to be imported from abroad? And is it true we don’t have enough American STEM workers to meet our needs?

The number of H1-B visas for foreign engineers has exceeded engineering job creation for every year since 2001. In fact, we have an astounding discrepancy between workers and jobs. Contrary to popular perception, H1-B workers may be hired even when a qualified American wants the job, and the U.S. worker can be displaced in favor of the foreign worker.

According to a RAND study, prepared for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2004, there is no empirical evidence to suggest a shortage of high-tech workers; in fact, we have a “crisis of surplus.”

RAND concluded: “We find neither an inadequate supply of STEM workers to supply the nation’s current needs, nor indications of shortages in the foreseeable future.”

Professor Ronil Hira, a recognized expert on offshore outsourcing and a fellow of the liberal think-tank Economic Policy Institute, testified before Congress last March: “The goals of the H-1B and L visa programs have been to bring in foreign workers who complement the U.S. work force. Instead, loopholes in both programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute, rather than complement workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to U.S. workers.”

In a recent video exchange, President Obama told a woman named Jennifer he could not understand why her engineer husband was unemployed because “industry tells me that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers.” Industry is telling that message to anyone who will listen.

If Obama had consulted data from the 2010 American Community Survey, collected by the U.S. Census Bureau of his administration, he would have learned that 1.8 million U.S. born engineers were either unemployed and looking for work, had dropped out of the labor market, or were not working as engineers. This number included 25,000 unemployed U.S. born individuals with either a master’s or a PhD in engineering, and another 68,000 with advanced degrees in other STEM fields.

So what might industry mean by a “labor shortage”? They can’t find enough Americans to work at the wages they want to pay.

Bottom line: STEM worker “shortages” are invented by business elites to convince Congress (and the president) that we need to expand the pool of lower wage foreign workers yet again, and drive down American wages. It’s the law of supply and demand. In their view, the 40 million immigrants who are already here are not enough. Big Money wants more.

Jonette Christian heads up Mainers for Sensible Immigration Reform. She lives in Holden.

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