When I lived in California years ago, I was frankly bewildered by the residents’ ambivalent relationship with their Mexican immigrants. There was an unmistakable push-pull thing going on – most of it a function of the economy.
On the one hand, long-time white residents of California seemed to be sending a clear signal to their Mexican neighbors: Stop crowding our colleges and requesting scholarships, stop driving up our healthcare costs, and quit adding your names to our Social Security and welfare rolls.
Oddly enough, though, these same folks seemed to have a conflicting message to send to these same recent immigrants. Welcome! Bienvenidos! Come clean our houses, groom our lawns and fix our roofs. And feel free to drive your burrito-and-horchata lunch trucks straight over to our places of business. (We love your prices!)
Ambivalent or not, the relationship between California and its immigrant neighbors seemed headed to a new dynamic in the state’s economy such that, in 2014, Latinos officially outnumbered whites.
In one sense this ambivalence is understandable—even classic. The influx of Mexicans, initially treated by white residents as a virtual invasion, was fast coming to be treated by these same Anglo Americans as more of an accommodation.
But in a Bloomberg article this week, journalist Conor Sen makes us aware of an astonishing new chapter to the narrative. Since its low point in 2009, employment in this country has increased by nearly fourteen million workers. Forty-three percent of that growth is among Hispanics; many of whom were born in the U.S., while others are immigrants, mostly from Mexico.
As Sen views this long-term development, “The muscle behind the U.S. economic expansion is the same as the recovery’s weakness, and it lies in one word: Mexico.”
Here in the States, the numbers of white non-Hispanic Americans are dwindling. By contrast, the immigrant Hispanic population is entering its prime working years. Meanwhile, the states with lower Hispanic populations are going through a decline. And states with a strong manufacturing base like Michigan have suddenly become hard hit for employees. It’s no wonder then that Ford, with its home base in Michigan, has just announced it’s moving small-car production from Michigan to Mexico.
Mexico has become a vital part of our workforce, not only because the country is next door to us – but because it ranks tenth among the countries of the world in population, and still has a large prime-age group of workers. It’s important to remember too that workers also spend money. And let’s face it – the United States’ economy could certainly profit from a hearty injection of consumer spending.
As my former California neighbors made clear, U.S. residents will complain and grumble about Mexican immigrants. But we’ll ultimately convert our fear of being invaded and looted to the spirit of accommodation and commerce, Donald Trump’s promise of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico notwithstanding.
And, as we settle down and concentrate on building our own financial resources, rather than fret about what up-and-coming immigrants might do us out of, we’ll find ourselves too far ahead with our lives to worry needlessly.