Developing strategies to end hunger

5 posts from June 2010

African Immigration

Contemporary immigration is often synonymous with Latin Americans, or even more specifically – Mexicans. Historically, America’s immigration folklore equates immigration with Europe. For its part, Asian immigration has also been a subject of policy analysis and public concern. But in American immigration history one group is typically absent: Africans.

Until fairly recently, immigration historians have not treated Africans brought to America as immigrants.  Although fundamentally different from other types of immigration in that Africans were a captive population transported involuntarily, the Atlantic slave trade – which was the source of most African migration to the U.S. – was one of the major means of bringing people not only to the United States, but to countries from Brazil to Canada.

African migration to the U.S. dropped drastically after 1808 with the outlaw of the slave trade. Although there was voluntary Caribbean immigration to the U.S. on-and-off during the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, the voluntary migration of Africans and African-descended migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean has quickened only since the 1970s.   

Africans were some of the earliest migrants to what would become the United States. There were Africans living in the colonies – brought as indentured servants – before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Before that, during the 1500s, there were Africans in what is now Florida and Texas, then part of the Spanish Empire.

In terms of the English colonies, the first enduring settlement in what would become the United States was founded in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. In 1619 African captives were first used by the English to supplement the growing labor needs for the increasingly permanent colonies.

Just as the legal terminology and status of other immigrants shifted through historical eras (for example from settler, to immigrant, to illegal alien) Africans were not initially brought to the English colonies as slaves. At first Africans were indentured servants, equal to their English counterparts, who would be freed of their obligations to their owners after several years of service.

Throughout the 17th century between half and two-thirds of all European immigrants to the American colonies also came as indentured servants. After given their freedom, some African indentured servants were economically secure enough to buy land and purchase indentured servants of their own.

In the early years, there were no slave laws in the colonies. Slavery was forged gradually during the 17th century after the landed elite began to view the indentured servant system as too unstable a source of labor. Beginning in 1641 the colonies started– one-by-one – to codify slavery laws in their constitutions. Gradually, the race-based slave system was established. 

The Atlantic slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese in the mid-1400s, a half century before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, but with the New World plantation system and race-based slavery firmly established throughout the Americas during the 16th and 17th centuries, the need for labor – and therefore the volume of the slave trade – escalated.

Scholars estimate that at least 10 to 12 million Africans were brought to the Americas and an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States before the slave trade was outlawed by Congress.

As one of the nation’s first immigrant – albeit captive – labor forces, Africans and their descendants were a key part of the growth of early capitalism not only in the American South, but in New England and Europe, all of which profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

After the end of the trade in the U.S., voluntary black migrants (immigrants from Africa and African-descended immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean) were rare.  The restrictive U.S. immigration laws of the early-and mid-20th century were aimed at Asians and Southern and Eastern Europeans but they also applied to Africans. Black immigration to the U.S. didn't grow significantly until the 1960s as Africa began the decolonization process and U.S. immigration laws dropped their race-based preferences.

In the 21st century, as Africa has developed and the U.S. has become more racially tolerant, black immigration has quickened. Since 2000, the black immigrant population has grown 47% to 3.1 million, comprising 8% of the overall 37 million black population. Of the foreign-born black population, 54% are from the Caribbean while 34% are from Africa.

Perhaps the best and most obvious example of the impact of African immigration is President Obama, the son of a Kenyan immigrant. But there are millions of black immigrants in the U.S. shaping the character of American society. The Dominican Republic is the nation’s 10th  largest source of immigrants and almost 780,000 Dominicans account for 2% of the U.S.’s 38 million foreign-born. Both Haiti and Jamaica each also count more than a half million immigrants in the United States and the nation’s 200,000 Nigerians comprise the largest foreign-born African population in the U.S.

Although most African Americans are not immigrants they are – like almost all Americans – descended from immigrants (old and new) and black immigration remains relevant to the contemporary immigration debate.

Africa and the World Cup

The 2010 World Cup has not only cast a spotlight on the African continent, it has also introduced the world to a darling South African tradition: the vuvuzela. If you have watched any of the games, you know what it is—a menacing stadium horn blown the entire duration of the football matches. If you hate it, FIFA’s response is “tough.” When in South Africa, do as the South Africans.

And so it is, Africans are now having a cultural imprint on the world’s most popular sport. Hundreds of thousands of sports fans and journalists have descended on South Africa, the World Cup’s official host. The games will position Africa a little differently in the global arena.

While some fans may opt to mute the match to escape the drone of the vuvuzelas, we hope the world will tune into more than the soccer matches. The World Cup is also an opportunity to refocus our attention on Africa—both the gains that led to its landing the biggest sporting event in the world, and its persistent challenges.

Let’s take South Africa, where there have been epic changes since the first democratic elections in 1994, including sustained, robust economic growth. South Africa is classified as a middle-income country with a population of about 48 million. GDP per capita is more than $3,000, and economic growth has been positive since 1994. There has been good progress in the delivery of basic services to South Africans, including sanitation and electricity, and improved social safety nets for the most vulnerable. Women make up 43 percent of parliament.

But there is also extreme wealth inequality, and South Africa is home to more HIV-positive people than any other country—an estimated 5.7 million people live with HIV/AIDS. There is close to 30 percent unemployment. Even with one of the highest GDP per capita on the continent, almost half of the population still lives on less than $2 a day. South Africa also has one of the highest urban crime rates in the world. These are some very stark contrasts.

In light of the World Cup, the Financial Times is publishing a lengthy series on both the barriers to the continent’s economic integration and some changing trends. Bread for the World Institute highlighted some of these continent-wide gains and challenges in a brief report released before the official World Cup opening.

The vuvuzelas have got us talking about what makes the 2010 World Cup distinctly African. Surely Africa has more to offer the world than a plastic horn and a month-long sporting event. Let’s not miss this unprecedented opportunity to examine the barriers to Africa realizing its potential.

The World Food Prize

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, yesterday was named the annual World Food Prize winner. He shares the award with Jo Luck, head of Heifer International. Congratulations to David and Jo. They richly deserve it.

This is the first time the World Food Prize, started in 1976, was awarded for advocacy. The prize is normally given to researchers and economists. David is an economist by training, as well as an ordained minister, but for nearly 20 years he has been leading Bread for the World,an advocacy organization, and so this prize is also a recognition of the critical role that advocacy has to play in generating the political will to end hunger.

This is quite an honor for everyone at Bread for the World, and that includes the Institute and the Alliance to End Hunger. In his typical humility, David told us we had all earned this prize, and by that he meant everyone who's been on Bread's staff for the 36 years the organization has been around. That's gracious of him, but the truth is David is an extraordinary leader. It's wonderful to work with so many people who are committed to a just cause like ending hunger. But it's truly inspiring because David's a visionary. That word gets thrown around a lot, but David really does see a world without hunger, and he has helped me to see that too.

Earlier in the week, we had our annual lobby day at Bread for the World, where Bread members come from around the country to meet with their elected representative on Capitol Hill and to press them to act on Bread's main legislative campaign for the year. This year's campaign seeks to make permanent improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit that were included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These are critical programs in the US safety net and target working families in particular.

Before Bread members went to the Capitol to meet with their representatives, David gave a powerful sermon about these programs and talked about the struggles of a young single mother and her child. The woman's name is Megan, and he knew of her because she works as a waitress at a local Appleby's, where David's youngest son, John, also works. Megan has a second job working as a gas station attendant. It doesn't pay as well, but the hours are regular, unlike at Appleby's, and so at least she knows from week to week what her paycheck will be. It's difficult enough for a family to budget when it's trying to survive on low-wage work, and a lot more difficult when they don't know how much they will be earning. These are the struggles of low-income families in the United States, and they aren't talked about nearly as often as they should. When David is preaching, you wish everyone in the country could hear him -- you know then that getting Congress to agree to improve tax credits for working families wouldn't seem like such an uphill slog.

I've seen David give equally impassioned sermons about struggling families in Mozambique or Ethiopia. David Beckmann received the World Food Prize mostly on behalf of his work to reduce hunger in the developing world, and a lot of his biggest fans don't even realize he works on behalf of people struggling here in the United Sates. It's one of the things that make him unique in the world of anti-hunger advocacy, and it's one of the things that is unique about Bread. I'm hoping this prize will make more Americans aware of both David and Bread.

Jobs and Immigrants

One of Americans’ main anxieties regarding immigration is jobs. When the economy roars the salience of job competition fades. But during times of high unemployment (like today), the impact of immigrants on jobs and wages is a paramount public concern.

In the media and in political discourse it’s almost taken as given that immigrants steal American jobs and drive down wages. Polls show that a majority of Americans believe that immigration might make employers less willing to pay a decent wage. Like so much of the discussion, these views are espoused, disseminated, and accepted with little or no evidence.

Happily, there is a body of economic research demonstrating that the impact of unauthorized immigration on the United States economy—while nuanced and mixed—is largely positive. This week an economic analysis of the impact of immigrants on the economy during the recession stated:

“Immigration unambiguously improves employment, productivity, and income, but this involves adjustments. These adjustments are more difficult during downturns, suggesting that the United States would benefit from immigration that adjusts to economic conditions.”

This report was the latest in a series of research demonstrating that immigration—and particularly unauthorized immigration—largely complements rather than substitutes native American workers’ skills.

So while politicians tout facile analyses linking the nation’s millions of unemployed with the number of unauthorized immigrants, credible economic analysis shows that unauthorized immigration is negligible in terms of “taking away American jobs.” In fact, the consensus among economists is that immigration:

“Can boost the supply of skills different from and complementary to those of natives, increase the supply of low-cost services, contribute to innovation, and create incentives for investment and efficiency gains…There is broad consensus that the long-run impact of immigration on the average income of Americans is small but positive.”

Of course, like everything in life, immigration has costs in addition to benefits. And these costs are borne more heavily by one section of the American labor force whose education level most closely matches that of immigrants: high school dropouts.

The growth of unauthorized immigration is linked to the increasing educational attainment of Americans during the second half of the 20th century. In 1960, half of all American men in the workforce were high school dropouts who filled jobs requiring little formal education. Today less than 10 percent of the workforce is composed of American dropouts.

The increasing education and skills of the American workforce is the foundation for economic growth. But while the percentage of Americans with more formal education and more job-relevant skills has increased, the millions of jobs requiring less than a high school degree—construction, restaurant work, agriculture—are not disappearing.

With less low-skill natives to work in these jobs, they are increasingly filled by unauthorized immigrants who arrive in the United States to meet this labor market gap. So if you work in a restaurant, clean houses, toil in agriculture, or labor on a construction site, you might be competing with unauthorized immigrants.

But Americans’ desire to work long-term in these fields is not strong. Anecdotal evidence shows that when these jobs are available and advertised at pay rates far above the minimum wage—even during almost 10 percent unemployment—they continue to go unfilled by native workers.

Due in part to Americans’ disinterest in these jobs, some research indicates that unauthorized immigrants compete most with other immigrants and the children of immigrants whose skill set—and lack of English-language skills—most closely matches that of recent immigrants.

In spite of the potential for a slight, short-term negative imact, the long-term overall impact of immigration is widely positive, as is stated in another recent report:

“Immigrants are likely to expand the total number of jobs available: because they have different skills from natives; and because local economies respond to a large labor supply by creating jobs…Native workers are thought to respond to immigrants’ arrival by changing positioning in the labor market. This protects them from the potentially adverse effects of a larger labor supply.” 

In any case, for the vast majority of Americans, unauthorized immigration is a complement to the labor force and in fact has a positive impact on job creation.

Puestos de trabajo e inmigrantes

Una de las principales preocupaciones de los estadounidenses con respeto a la inmigración es el empleo. Cuando la economía aumenta, la competencia laboral se desvanece. Pero en tiempos de alto desempleo (como hoy día), el impacto de los inmigrantes en los empleos y los salarios es una preocupación pública importante.

En los medios de comunicación y en el discurso político es casi dado por hecho que los inmigrantes roban empleos en Estados Unidos y disminuyen los salarios. Las encuestas muestran que la mayoría de los estadounidenses creen que la inmigración puede hacer que los empleadores estén menos dispuestos a pagar un salario decente. Al igual que gran parte del debate, estos puntos de vista son defendidos, diseminados y aceptados con poca o ninguna evidencia.

Afortunadamente, hay una colectividad de investigación económica que demuestra que el impacto de migración no autorizada en la economía de Estados Unidos—aunque matizada y variada—es muy positiva. Esta semana un análisis económico del impacto de los inmigrantes en la economía durante la recesión declaró lo siguiente:

“Sin lugar a dudas, la inmigración mejora el empleo, la productividad y los ingresos. Sin embargo, en este sentido se trata de ajustes. Estos ajustes son más difíciles durante las recesiones, lo que sugiere que los Estados Unidos se beneficiarían de la inmigración que se ajusta a las condiciones económicas”.

Este informe fue el último de una serie de investigaciones que demuestran que la migración—en particular la migración no autorizada—en gran medida complementa y no sustituye las habilidades nativas de los trabajadores estadounidenses.

Por lo tanto, que mientras los políticos promocionan los análisis simplistas que aúnan a millones de desempleados en el país con el número de inmigrantes no autorizados, el análisis económico creíble muestra que la migración no autorizada es insignificante en términos de quitarle “los empleos a los estadounidenses”. De hecho, el consenso entre los economistas es que la inmigración:

“Puede aumentar el suministro de capacidades diferentes y complementarias a las de los nativos, aumentar la oferta de servicios de bajo costo, contribuir a la innovación, y crear incentivos para las inversiones y aumento de eficiencia... Existe un amplio consenso de que el impacto a largo plazo de la migración en el ingreso promedio de los estadounidenses es pequeño, pero positivo”.

Por supuesto, como todo en la vida, la migración tiene costos además de beneficios. Y esos costos son sostenidos en mayor medida por una sección de la fuerza laboral estadounidense cuyo nivel de educación es bastante similar al de los inmigrantes, personas que abandonan la escuela secundaria.

El aumento de la migración no autorizada está vinculado a la realización cada vez mayor de la educación de los estadounidenses durante la segunda mitad del siglo 20. En 1960, la mitad de todos los hombres norteamericanos en la fuerza laboral habían abandonado la escuela secundaria y llenado los trabajos que requieren poca educación formal. Hoy en día menos del 10 por ciento de la fuerza laboral está compuesta por estadounidenses que abandonan la escuela secundaria.

El aumento de la educación y las habilidades de los trabajadores norteamericanos es la base para el crecimiento económico. Pero mientras el porcentaje de estadounidenses con más educación formal y mayores habilidades necesarias para el trabajo ha aumentado, los millones de empleos que requieran menos de un título secundario—la construcción, trabajo en restaurantes, la agricultura—no están desapareciendo.

Debido a que son menos los estadounidenses con baja calificación para trabajar en estos empleos, los mismos son cada vez más ocupados por los inmigrantes no autorizados que llegan a Estados Unidos para llenar este vacío en el mercado laboral. Por lo tanto si usted trabaja en un restaurante, limpia casas, labora en la agricultura o en el trabajo de construcción, es posible que compita con los inmigrantes no autorizados.

El deseo de los estadounidenses de trabajar a largo plazo en estas esferas no es grande. La evidencia anecdótica muestra que cuando estos trabajos están disponibles y son publicados con salarios muy por encima del salario mínimo—incluso durante el tiempo de casi 10 por ciento de desempleo—los mismos no son ocupados por los trabajadores estadounidenses.

Debido, en parte, al desinterés de los estadounidenses en estos puestos de trabajo, algunas investigaciones indican que los inmigrantes no autorizados compiten con la mayoría de otros inmigrantes y los hijos de inmigrantes cuyas calificaciones—y la falta de conocimiento del idioma inglés—es más parecida a la de los inmigrantes recientes.

A pesar del potencial para un impacto leve y negativo a corto plazo, a largo plazo el impacto global de la inmigración es ampliamente positivo, como fuera declarado en otro informe reciente:

“Los inmigrantes tienden a ampliar el número total de empleos disponibles, debido a que poseen habilidades diferentes a las de los nativos, y porque las economías locales responden a un surgimiento inesperado de trabajos mediante la creación de nuevos empleos. Se piensa que los trabajadores nativos responden a la llegada de los inmigrantes mediante el cambio de posición en el mercado laboral, siendo que esto los protege de los efectos potencialmente adversos de un súbito aumento en empleos”.

En cualquier caso, para la gran mayoría de los estadounidenses, la migración no autorizada es un complemento a la fuerza laboral y de hecho tiene un impacto positivo en la creación de empleos.

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