According to Bob Herbert, writing in the N.Y. Times, in the year following the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009, foreign-born workers in the U.S. gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million. Many of these lost jobs went to the immigrants and most of the others either went overseas, were replaced by ever advancing computerization and automation,, or simply disappeared because employers now know that people who are lucky enough to have decently paid jobs are more than willing to work harder and longer in order to keep them, thereby allowing cost-conscious and profit seeking employers to lay off some of their insufficiently motivated co-workers.
What this shows is not that we should discriminate against foreign-born workers, but that the U.S. needs to somehow develop a full-employment economy that provides jobs for all who want to work, at pay rates that enable the workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living. In other words, a resurrection of the American dream.
Right now, however, nothing close to that is happening. Rather, the opposite is happening.
The human suffering in the years that it will take to recover from this recession will continue to be immense. And that suffering will only be made worse if the nation continues to embark upon a totally misguided crash program of deficit reduction that in the short term will undermine any recovery, and that in the long term will make true deficit reduction that much harder to achieve. (Why harder to achieve? Because reduced wages mean reduced tax receipts, and it's tax receipts that are used to reduce the deficit.)
The wreckage from the recession and the nation's mindlessly destructive policies in the years leading up to the recession is all around us. We still don't even have the money to pay for the wars that our politicians and corporate elite insist on having us fight year after year. And they have neither the will nor the common sense to either raise taxes to pay for the wars, or stop waging them. So we just keep borrowing, internationally, from the rich, and even from our own Federal Reserve, which essentially prints up the additional trillions, as required. But for how much longer will our creditors let us get away with this? In other words, for how much longer will they be willing to be paid back in dollars that will obviously soon be worth much less? (Keep in mind, the more dollars that chase a limited number of goods, the less that each of those dollars buys.)
Faced with the fiscal nightmares that result from rising unemployment and reduced tax receipts, state and local governments are reducing services, cutting their work forces, hacking away at health and pension benefits, and raising taxes and fees. And so far these cuts haven't been sufficient; so there is more carnage to come. Worst of all, the austerity measures are punishing some of the most vulnerable among us, including children, the sick and the disabled. And many more of them will soon feel the sting of this whip. Even the physical abuse of infants is rising dramatically, as falling wages cause ever more in the way of family and marital stress.
For all the talk about the need to improve the public schools and get rid of incompetent teachers, school systems around the country are being hammered with dreadful cutbacks; teachers are being let go in droves, not because they are incompetent, but strictly for budgetary reasons. There was a time when the United States understood the importance of educating its young people and led the way in compulsory public schooling. It built the finest public education system in the world. Now, although no one will admit it publicly, we've decided to let most of our schools go to hell. Our teachers are paid less than in most other industrialized countries because most of the money is consumed by bloated school bureaucracies. Nevertheless, as part of his proposed austerity budget, the mayor of New York, for example, is planning to eliminate the jobs of thousands of public school teachers over the next two years. And so it is that the bulk of the American people will become even dumber and more ill-informed and apathetic than they already are.
We've become a hapless, can't-do society. Public figures talk endlessly about "transformative changes" in public education, but the years go by and we see no such thing. Politicians across the spectrum insist that they are all about job creation while the employment situation in the real world remains pathetic. All we are good at is bulldozing an ever higher percentage of our national income into the bank accounts of the very wealthy, who for the most part either sock it away in Switzerland or in maximally profitable investments abroad. (China's growth rate stays close to 10%, while ours struggles to get back above 2%. So where do you think most of the smart money is going to be invested -- America or China?)