Mayor Megan Barry’s Office of Resilience has singled out “economic inclusion and equity” as the key to building “urban resilience,” but support from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the New American Economy for legal and illegal immigration complicates achieving the mayor’s goals.
According to Metro Nashville Social Services’ 2016 Community Needs Evaluation report, “the poverty rate in Davidson County remains higher than Tennessee and the U.S.” Low wages, educational attainment, unaffordable housing and wage gaps are among the reasons cited for the pervasive and continuing high rate of poverty.
Low wage work is equated with earning the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 used by Tennessee. According to the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.8% of Tennessee’s 67,000 low wage workers are paid the minimum wage, while 2.1% earn below the minimum wage.
Nashville Workers Dignity organized in 2010 to represent “wage theft” from low wage immigrant hotel cleaners and have expanded their campaign to include construction workers. Low wage hotel workers are bootstrapping their demands for “economic justice” defined as “a minimum wage of $15 an hour, paid sick days and maternity time, and more than anything else, respect for hotel and cleaning workers,” to the explosive growth currently being experienced in Nashville.
Workers Dignity hired a full-time organizer to head up a Neighborhood Defense Committee. This project was launched by the TN Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) to shield criminal and non-criminal illegal aliens and obstruct enforcement of immigration law by U.S. authorities.
The New American Economy (NAE), which takes an open borders approach to economic growth promotes the idea that U.S. businesses must bring in more low skill immigrant workers because they will do the “physically difficult work” that native-born workers are either unwilling or physically unable to perform. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce, is a named member of NAE whose report, A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle, Demographic Change and Why Immigrants are Needed to Fill America’s Less-Skilled Labor Gap, claims that the U.S. economy can only be rescued with more legal and illegal immigrant workers.
The NAE Tennessee specific report repeats the claim that Tennessee’s 129,000 “undocumented population” is a “small but critical role in the workforce.” The report’s 2014 data shows that in construction, 12% or 18,500 workers are illegal aliens and in the “accommodation and food” industry, 10% or approximately 13,122 workers are illegal aliens.
The NAE argues that low skill immigrant labor “help companies expand, creating more attractive opportunities for American workers.” However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s report says that “[r]esearch done by the Center for American Progress has found that reducing the illegal alien population in the United States by one-third would raise the income of unskilled workers by $400 a year.”
Similarly, a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data shows that “virtually all of the net jobs created since 2000 have gone to legal and illegal immigrants as opposed to native-born citizens”… and that the “trends since 2000 challenge the argument that immigration on balance increases job opportunities for natives. Over 17 million immigrants arrived in the country in the last 14 years, yet native employment has deteriorated significantly.”
The CIS analysis of labor market participation of legal immigrants and illegal aliens in Tennessee reached a similar conclusion.
In 2015 Congressional testimony, Dr. Frank Morris, former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, highlighted the negative impact of low skill immigrant workers on the Black American worker and disputed the myth that illegal immigrants were doing jobs Americans won’t do:
The false contention that ‘immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do’ would be correct if it stated ‘immigrants take jobs Americans can’t get.’ Contrary to popular belief, American workers are the overwhelming majority in all the major fields of immigrant employment — specifically construction, the services, and light manufacturing. The fact that 83% of all construction workers in America are American demonstrates how fallacious the immigrant employment myth really is. The use of illegal migrant workers in construction in lieu of young African American workers is a source of both frustration and despair in African-American communities.
Mayor Megan Barry’s cover letter to the 2016 Community Needs Evaluation report laments that while Nashville is prospering, “not all residents have equally benefitted…” She might want to have that conversation with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.