Friday, May 05, 2006

Immigration, African Americans and the Experiance with Education

I've been following Tariq's comments about lets replace them with Latinos attitude. I've also sensed some other tensions between blacks and the recent wave of immigrants seeking citizenship.

Today's NYTimes notes the growing unease for some balcks on immigration. I think there are more gains than losses over this issue. As Jesse Jackson put it in the article:

"We too were denied citizenship," Mr. Jackson said. "We too were undocumented workers working without wages, without benefits, without the vote. "We should feel honored that other people are using tactics and strategies from our [civil rights movement] struggle. We shouldn't say they're stealing from us. They're learning from us."

Where as some black leaders such as Ronald Walters had this to say:

"Mr. Walters said he understood those conflicting emotions, saying he feels torn himself because of his concerns about the competition between immigrants and low-skilled black men for jobs. In 2004, 72 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.

"I applaud them moving out of the shadows and into the light because of the human rights issues involved," Mr. Walters said of illegal immigrants. "I've given my entire life to issues of social justice as an activist and an academic. In that sense, I'm with them.

"But they also represent a powerful ingredient to the perpetuation of our struggle," he said. "We have a problem where half of black males are unemployed in several cities. I can't ignore that and simply be my old progressive self and say it's not an issue. It is an issue.""

Tariq makes a point of jobs going to the immigration community, I say that yes that will happen in one way or another, particulary low-skilled labor orientated jobs but it may not lower wages amongst them as Um Abdullah suggests. For instance, a recent study published in the NYTimes argues that the Cost of Illegal Immigration May Be Less Than Meets the Eye. The study's results are debatable but worth considering.

Moreover, I feel that the US economy will have to deal with larger structural changes in the labor market. For instance, many manufacturing jobs have been outsourced recently and even jobs that put Americans in the middle class such IT services have are now being provided by Indians. Economists are suggesting that these changes are inevitable consequences of globalization and for a long time the US was the biggest winner of globalization but now other countries are catching up and leveling the economic playing field. The implications created by such changes means that over time, there will be trend towards services (financial, information, technical, etc.) as the largest component of our economy.

How do these global changes in the economy affect the African American community?
The question goes back to education. With an economy that will demand more highly educated and trained laborers, African Americans who are not highly educated will find themselves unemployed by the masses. They should not scapegoat the immigrant workers for the short-term gains of low skilled labor but should develop a plan to train members of their community to become part of the emerging highly educated workforce.

To draw a lesson from a pervious immigrant experience, when the Irish came to American they worked side by side with the blacks in many positions such as construction workers of the New York City subway tunnels. Back then, the Irish were competing with the African Americans for jobs; today it is the Latino community. In the future, the Latino community may become the ‘new Irish’ but the African American community will remain static. These observations pose some lager questions as to why the African American has remained static and continues to remain static.

Tariq, your concern should not lead you to worry about the Latino community. The Latinos currently outnumber the number of African Americans and they will be very potent political force in the future. In fact, it would be foolish if they Black community antagonized the Latino community over these issues and led to poor relations in the future.

Instead, the African American community has to look inward and ask why they find themselves economically pitted against the latest batch of new immigrants? The answer according to me is the lack of educational progress. Every new immigrant community in the US maximized the educational system of the US to establish itself. The African American community (along with Native Americans as well, but lets just stick to African Americans) has been unable to replicate the educational success of Jewish, Irish, and Asian immigrants. If the education problem stays the same way, then African Americans shouldn't be suprised to find themselves locked in a cycle of being pitted against the newest immigrant or minority group in the US.