Just the other day I was listening to a radio show discussion concerning “handouts.” The discussion revolved around whether or not people should be given handouts without any demands in return. Some guy called up to complain about the people in New Orleans being lazy after the hurricane (both black and white folks, according to the caller), and leaving all the rebuilding jobs to Mexican labor, much of which was illegal. He said that whenever he saw a crew working hard, he knew it was entirely Mexican, because Americans just don’t have the gumption to do hard work anymore.
It is beyond me why people can’t figure out why Mexicans are willing to work so much harder than Americans at the same jobs. It is directly related to the difference of cost of living between Mexico and America. What many Americans don’t understand is that a lot of Mexicans want to return home, and those that choose to stay in the US and become citizens can maintain dual nationality courtesy of Mexican law, so they can return at any time without any loss of privileges.
In 2007, the average daily wage in Mexico came out to about $16 US per day. That is $2/hour over a full workday. A Mexican illegal alien making $10/hour in America is making five times what the average Mexican worker does, and plenty of illegals make a lot more than that. A few years ago, an experienced Mexican roofer could earn about $25/hour here in the states.
For Americans, the national average wage in 2007 came out to $40,405.48. That’s about $20/hour. Now imagine there was some magical, wealthy country full of jobs for young American men. Let’s say the unskilled young men were offered $100/hour, and the skilled ones (carpenters, plumbers, etc.) well over $200/hour. These young men would jump at the opportunity to take these jobs, and would put up with substandard conditions, such as communal living in cramped quarters, without a second thought. They wouldn’t mind the idea of living under threat of a forced but free ride home, because they’d know that they could probably get back in if they wanted, and going home isn’t all that bad anyway. And of course they’d work hard to keep their jobs, because after just a year or two on the job they could buy a house back home with cash and return as one of the wealthier men in town. After five years or so making the equivalent of $400,000 per year roofing, a young man would be set for life! Even five years making $200,000 per year washing dishes would be swell — it would be like working for 25 years making the average national wage.
On the other hand, for the young American, $10 an hour in a major city will get him a crappy studio apartment, cheap shoes, a bicycle and a little left over for recreation in dive bars and the like. Even in the country $10 per hour is a downright lousy wage. Maybe enough to rent a trailer and buy a used pickup. What motivation does the young American have to go out in the hot sun, sweating and working in a dangerous occupation, when he’s guaranteed nothing but a miserably low status in his own home?
So whenever you hear someone talking about “jobs Americans won’t do,” just remember the above. It really blows my mind that people can’t figure out why Mexicans are so eager to work as hard as they do in America. I’d suggest that people go to Mexico and see how hard Mexicans scramble for jobs that pay $1.00 per hour, which is roughly the Mexican equivalent to making $10 per hour in the US. Somehow, I doubt they’d be such eager workers at that wage.
Of course, one could make the argument that the Mexican standard of living is lower overall, but it isn’t that much lower, and motivation has a whole lot to do with one’s perspective. Relative to what they could have had before in Mexico, they are getting paid like CEOs for doing manual labor. And American workers are simply losing any leverage they might have had to demand a living wage.