I just saw Frank Bean, the immigration scholar, speak. He made a brilliant point: The number of native white and black men with high school diplomas in the U.S. has been shrinking as more and more men have been getting post-secondary educations. As the number of native-born men with 12th-grade educations has dwindled, immigrant men, largely from Mexico, have been making up a larger portion of this category. While experts cannot agree how much Mexican immigrants and their children are assimilating (that is, how well they are making their way up the social class ladder), Bean noted that the white and African American male workers are the ones going head-to-head with these immigrant workers.
In this competition, immigrant men have the edge, not simply because they take lower wages and don't have union protection, but also because, as a group, they have lower rates of criminality and drug abuse--and that may become even more true as today's out-of-work blue collar workers remain out of work for a year or two or more. So as more and more native high-school-educated workers find themselves unemployed (and possibly become unemployable), Bean speculates that immigrant workers may fill the gap, and get many of the blue collar jobs that return, as we recover.
Don't get me wrong: I am a huge proponent of immigration, and believe immigrants are critical given our aging demographics, are good for declining fertility rates, and are good for the economy. And, as it happens, I am the daughter of two first-generation immigrants. I believe immigration strengthens our nation, and is an important part of our national identity. But I'm worried about the cultural dynamic that would result from widespread, chronic unemployment among native-born men (black and white), with many new opportunities going to recent immigrants.