Undocumented Workers Closing Pay Gap With Legal Workers — Why?

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The initial idea behind corporations and companies hiring undocumented workers was that if the workers can’t be tracked, then no one has oversight into what they are paid and how they are treated. One of the only advantages of taking the chance on hiring an undocumented worker is that you can get cheaper labor. But not so fast — that might actually be changing.

Recently released findings show that undocumented workers are actually bridging the pay gap with those who have the legal right to work here. Unauthorized immigrants have traditionally gotten paid as much as 9% less than documented workers with the same background and skill set. But as of 2008, just when the economy was about to drop off, undocumented pay started to increase sharply.

The so-called “wage penalty” has continued to decrease over the past ten years. Currently, the gap is only about 3% between undocumented and legal employees. This information can be found in the National Bureau of Economic Affairs, and suggests that undocumented workers are faring far better than anyone knows. So what is at the heart of the increase in wages?

It wasn’t until 1986 that lawmakers started to ban hiring foreign labor here if the workers were known to be illegal. In theory alone, that made the practice of hiring an unauthorized worker riskier, and therefore, you were able to pay them less. A pedestrian accidents lawyer will confirm that the risk an employer would take in hiring someone who was here illegally would typically result in the immigrant receiving less per hour.

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In the same respect, because the workers were here illegally, the employers could pay them whatever they wanted. It was a supply-based wage. Another reason that immigrants who are undocumented get paid less is because you can’t hire them for any occupation that requires a certificate or a background check, which are typically minimum-wage jobs. Although they can have a skill set, they have traditionally been limited by what jobs were available and who would hire them for a specific dollar amount.

One theory about why the wage gap has lessened is that Barack Obama took office. During his presidency, the wage gap went up significantly for undocumented workers. That is most likely because Obama gave a lifeline to those who were here illegally to let them work legally.

Things like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy allow undocumented workers to obtain necessary credentials, and it overrode the documentation process. Allowing any person who came to the US as a child to have indefinite protection from deportation and the allowance to work here legally, millions of undocumented workers became “documented.”

It would also appear that the entire system became less strict. Since not many people were being held to the standards of the undocumented laws, those who were here illegally began to demand higher wages and were getting them because of a shortage in many industries where skills are necessary. Since most of the stigma was lifted and people were feeling safer about the possibility of deportation, the entire atmosphere began to change.

Things like sanctuary cities only further lessened the fears that many undocumented immigrants had, allowing them to insist that they be paid nearly the same as their legal cohorts for the same jobs. In fact, in cities where sanctuary is given, the pay between undocumented and documented workers is nearly the same. Those states that have refused to check immigration status have done a disservice to those who are here legally by allowing both legal and illegal immigrants the same rights to work.

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The other theory is related to supply and demand. As the market began to crash, fewer workers made their way to America because there simply weren’t the same opportunities. With fewer immigrant workers came more demand and higher pay. A dip in immigration to the US by people looking for better opportunities was likely a cause to lessen the pay gap even more.

There are many theories about why undocumented illegal immigrants are earning nearly the same as their counterparts in today’s job market. Whatever the reason, if Sessions follows through with his promise to enact the laws of the land, do away with sanctuary cities, and return to law and order, undocumented immigrants might not be able to earn the same income, simply because there will be a punishment for hiring them. Also, the immigrants might not be so bold as to demand the same income.

What caused America to be where it is with the decreasing gap between undocumented and legal immigration wages is likely to be unraveled as time goes on and America sees what enforcing the laws of the land will do to the immigrant workforce going forward.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.