Why Business and Labor Can't Agree on an Immigrant Worker Program

Using that data, we can get an idea of what might happen if the new visa makes employers pay new immigrant workers an average salary.

Let's look at landscapers in Modesto, California. Workers earning the lowest tier of salary make $4.11 less than the average landscaper's salary. So employers could be paying significantly more for an entry-level worker through this visa program than through regular employment means.

In some occupations, the salary difference isn't as dramatic. The 17th percentile of housekeepers in southern Mississippi earn $8.12 an hour, while the average is $8.48 an hour, according to Costa. So the program could make more sense for these types of industries.

In a less complex world, the solution would be straightforward: tell employers to raise salaries to attract U.S. workers, or deal with paying the average salary mandated by the immigrant-worker program.

But employers will have another option: hire undocumented workers.

Yes, the pool of workers will shrink if a legalization program is part of immigration reform. And a mandatory employment verification system could weed out some unauthorized immigrants in the labor market. But history shows that workers -- with or without papers -- tend to flock to employers willing to hire them. And so far, taller fences and talk about punishing employers hasn't changed that.

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