Part 4: How they do it.
This is the final post in a series on why a capitalist society would establish a large class of working and non-working poor, and create conditions wherein those in that predicament face large barriers to advancement. Wealth is power, and the poor have neither. If you want to prevent someone from accumulating wealth, depress the rate at which they are paid. The cost of living in the US, the cost of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, insurance, health care, and taxation, is much higher than say, Mexico. This means that an “undocumented alien” that crossed the border in an “unorthodox manner” and is working “under the table” can support a family back home for less money than a person with a family in the US. Such a person can and does accept a lower wage than would be a considered a decent living wage for a domestic family breadwinner. This system is working out so well for some corporate interests, that wetback labor is being viewed as indispensable and is being decriminalized. The effects on the workforce and the economy at large are less desirable however.
Going back to the model comparing money to a liquid, imagine a savings account as a bucket to be filled with water. There are three ways to prevent the bucket from being filled: put a hole in the bottom, siphon off the liquid as fast or faster than it is being transferred in, or divert the flow entirely. Hiring illegal immigrants and/or cheap offshore labor does a bit of all three. Offshore labor diverts the flow of wages and allows employers to pay wages that are lower than would be legal here. The wages paid in the US that go to feed families in Mexico, India, and other places in the world help the economies of those countries, but do nothing for the US economy. The presence of these alternative work forces keeps the minimum wage depressed below the poverty line, and creates an opprtunity to keep a wider veriety of jobs at the minimum wage standard. The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, and the excuse for many years has been that young adults working for McDonald’s, etc., are still living at home with their parents and don’t need to make as much as a family breadwinner. Unfortunately, this does not reflect the realities of the modern work force. As often as not, an unskilled breadwinner finds him/herself working two jobs to support a family and a home. If you do the math, this leaves no time for education, and this person will never qualify for a better paying job. Most of the time, these jobs offer no medical benefits, and workers in this category wind up with higher bills than a person making less money, but only working one job with benefits. This is a trap. Many people in this trap succumb to depression and self-destructive behaviors like drinking and smoking. Drinking and smoking puts money in the government’s pocket as well as large corporations, so it is not too vigorously discouraged. To see the names of some employers with a large work force receiving minimum wage, check out the list of Republican campaign contributors in part 1 of this essay.
Another myth that is repeatedly offered is that illegal immigrants take jobs that no one else wants. This is untrue. Immigrants take jobs that won’t work for US residents with higher expectations and needs for a return on the investment of their time. My ancestors worked in mines, and in textile mills and in shoe factories. Some of my friends worked in shoe factories until the 1970’s when the factories closed. Some of the people I went to High School with own and operate successful landscaping and tree businesses. Still others empty bedpans in nursing homes. Another works in the exhaust-filled tunnels that connect Manhattan to New Jersey. The problem with the jobs that wage earners shun is not the work, it is the wage. All of the excuses are gauged to keep a stratum of the workforce willing to work for less than a fair wage. The pure Capitalists and Libertarians and Objectivists can argue for a market free of regulation, but none of them ever had to live within the reality of a 1920’s West Virginia coal miner and his family. There is corruption on both sides of the labor equation, but collective bargaining is an economic necessity. The most recent developments of offshore labor and tolerated illegal immigration is an attempt to shift the balance of bargaining power back to the employer. Their motto might as well be, “Slavery is illegal unless it is in someone else’s country.”
There is much more that I could say on this topic, and much documentation that I could offer to back up my position. For now, I leave it at this, and open the floor to any debate that might ensue. I will just mention in passing one more trick used to keep the poor where they are: schools that don't teach.