Life in West Virginia has been pretty hard these last 18 months.
When Covid-19 first hit, the Mountain State suffered the worst economic shock in its history — with 94,000 jobs lost in just two months. Though we’ve come back from the worst of the downturn, we now face a sluggish recovery. The state unemployment rate remains higher than before the pandemic, and economists say we may not regain all the jobs we’ve lost until 2023.
Thankfully, both state and national leaders are trying to bring back employment. The bipartisan infrastructure bill wending its way through Congress could create around 3 million new jobs over a decade, according to an estimate from Moody’s Analytics. And Senator Joe Manchin shepherded the bill’s energy component through committee, where he insisted on investments in mine cleanup and economic development in formerly coal-dependent regions — measures that will bring new jobs and opportunities to our state.
Unfortunately, part of another giant bill on the legislative calendar would do just the opposite.
The multi-trillion-dollar spending package liberal Democrats hope to pass this fall allots money for many good causes, including healthcare, climate, and housing programs. But now some from the party’s ultra-progressive wing want it to do something else as well: grant legal status to four broad groups of undocumented immigrants, some 6 million people in total. Senate budget committee chairman Bernie Sanders told the Associated Press that the budget will include this provision “if I have anything to say about it.”
That would mean an enormous number of people suddenly flooding the American job market — fully double the number of positions the infrastructure bill is likely to create over 10 years. This kind of blanket amnesty would be counterproductive to the goal of reducing unemployment, and potentially calamitous for states still getting back on their feet.
An amnesty, moreover, will encourage further illegal immigration. Customs and Border Protection officials are already grappling with the highest number of attempted illegal crossings at the southern border in recent years — an average of more than 6,700 a day in August, the most recent monthly data available. Facilities, security personnel, and border communities are at capacity, their resources strained. The last thing we need is to foster more arrivals.
Meanwhile, millions of newly legalized residents could soon bring in extended family members, regardless of their ability to support themselves. It makes no economic sense to extend citizenship to a foreign high-school dropout just because he has a brother living in Morgantown or Charleston, when many West Virginians struggle to find work.
The United States already admits over a million legal immigrants each year. Allowing in millions more will drive down wages and reduce employment opportunities for current citizens. One study by a Harvard economist found that when the number of workers in a given field increases by 10%, wages in that field tend to drop by at least 3%. Lower-income native-born Americans feel the impact of illegal immigration the most, as the new arrivals tend to compete for that tier of the job market.
Those new arrivals also disadvantage working-class Americans in other ways. So far this year, average rents have surged 11.4% — contributing to the inflation that Senator Manchin has already warned about. Adding even more people to the rental market will only drive them up further, as folks compete over a limited supply of units.
Because liberals aim to pass their budget bill through the reconciliation process, they’ll be able to do so with a simple Senate majority, as long as their senators vote unanimously.
That means that a great deal rides on Manchin — a centrist who tries to keep things bipartisan. To protect West Virginian jobs, he needs to use his influence to strike the amnesty provisions from the larger bill — or vote against the package if it comes to that.
Manchin has long championed West Virginian workers and helped steer the economy into the future by bringing clean energy jobs to our state. It would be terrible to see him undo this good work by letting amnesty become the law of the land.
Sen. Rupie Phillips represents District 7 in the West Virginia Senate This piece originally ran in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.