Given the economic damage inflicted on us by the current administration and many state governments, most readers of this column would probably be quite happy to live in a state where:
• The official unemployment rate in March was 6.6%.
• The average unemployment rate in 2009 using the most comprehensive definition was 10.5%, the fourth-lowest in the nation (behind three much smaller states), and far lower than the national average of 16.2%.
• The number of people either working or looking for work has actually grown during the past twelve months (in most states, the labor force has contracted significantly).
• The economy grew in 2008, and probably did so again in 2009.
Unless you live in Oklahoma, you’re not in that state.
It “just so happens” that the Sooner State passed a strict immigration enforcement measure in May 2007, which went into effect six months later. Specifically:
House Bill 1804 was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate of the Oklahoma legislature. The measure’s sponsor, State Representative Randy Terrill, says the bill has four main topical areas: it deals with identity theft; it terminates public assistance benefits to illegals; it empowers state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws; and it punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
Oklahoma is no longer “O.K.” for illegal aliens, Terrill observes. “When you put everything together in context,” he contends, “the bottom line is illegal aliens will not come here if there are no jobs waiting for them, they will not stay here if there is no government subsidy, and they certainly won’t stay here if they know that if they ever encounter our state and local law enforcement officers, they will be physically detained until they’re deported. And that’s exactly what House Bill 1804 does.”
An amazing animated graphic (still available at The Mess That Greenspan Made) shows what happened in the immediate wake of 1804’s passage. It shows month-by-month changes in the unemployment rate for each state in the lower 48 states. From March 2007 to March 2008, alone among all states, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate fell significantly, especially in the final few months of the 12-month period presented — the first few months after 1804 went into effect.
Coincidence? Well, if fewer jobs are available to illegals, you would expect that lesser-skilled individuals shut out of the labor market by low, often under-the-table wages would be in a position to take them. Sadly, blacks and Hispanics in this country and in Oklahoma are likely to be disproportionately represented among the lesser-skilled, so looking at those groups’ unemployment rates will serve as a useful proxy.
Here are the facts:
Newly released numbers for 2009 show the unemployment rate for black Oklahomans is 11.1 percent, compared with 5 percent for whites and 7.4 percent for Hispanics. In 2008, black unemployment in the state was 8.7 percent, while the rate for whites was 2.9 percent and the rate for Hispanics was 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Shannon Muchmore at the Tulsa World had a reaction that was sadly and predictably ignorant:
The unemployment rate for black people in Oklahoma is twice as high as the rate for white people, and Hispanics face a similar disparity that exists regardless of education, training, or experience, data show.
Just a minute, Ms. Muchmore.
The 2.4% increase in the black unemployment rate from 2008 to 2009 was barely more than the 2.1% increase for whites; the “twice as high” degree of difference between the two rates (actually 2.2 times as high) was down from three times as high the year before. The unemployment rate for Hispanics went not up, but down, by 1.6%. Nationally, from December 2008 to December 2009, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics increased 4.1% and 3.5%, respectively.
I’d say this is evidence that lesser-skilled Oklahomans have been quite willing to take the “jobs that Americans won’t do.”
While in the neighborhood, I’ll note that perhaps the knee-jerk elitist stereotypes about race- and ethnicity-based discrimination in the heartland need to be revisited. If 1804 isn’t the reason Oklahoma has vastly outperformed most of the country, someone will have to try to explain what is.
Not that those who oppose any kind of immigration enforcement legislation are impressed. In an April 28, 2010, Christian Science Monitor opinion piece, Sally Kohn rolled out this startling claim about 1804:
One study suggests the bill led to an estimated 50,000 people fleeing Oklahoma and a 1.3 percent drop in economic output statewide. As a result, Oklahoma may well have incurred $1.8 billion in economic losses, just as it, like the rest of the nation, was bracing for recession.
Hmm, that’s funny … Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the state’s economy grew by 2.7% in 2008, a performance that puts it in the top ten among all states in a year when the national economy only grew by 0.4%. Additionally, information from the Census Bureau shows that the state’s population increased by just under 75,000, or 2%, between July 2007 and July 2009 — in line with the country as a whole. If those results are “painful,” I wonder how Ms. Kohn would characterize what’s going on in Michigan and California?
The Sooner State’s economic indicators are comparatively positive just about anywhere one looks. Per capita personal income in Oklahoma grew 2.8% between 2007 and 2009; nationally, it fell by 0.7%. The state’s already puny welfare caseload dropped by 11% in 2007 to under 19,000, and stayed there until June 2009. The number of SNAP/Food Stamp recipients in Oklahoma fell in both 2007 and 2008 by a combined 3.8% while rising 6.5% nationally.Loosened eligibility rules allowing those who don’t really need them and even college-aged children of the well-off to qualify have since made the SNAP/Food Stamp program an unreliable indicator of the true extent of poverty. Oklahoma does have a budget problem that bears watching, but so does the large majority of other states.
The aforementioned Ms. Kohn’s characterization of Oklahoma’s economy as “littered with crumbling farms and factories and aging populations who feel that any prospect of prosperity is passing them by” seems more than a little overwrought and offensively arrogant.
Since 1804 passed, Oklahoma has not suffered nearly as much economically as most of the rest of the U.S. In fact, the state can fairly be described, especially on a relative basis, as prosperous. Even before considering the reductions in crime the citizens of Arizona are so desperately seeking in their state’s new immigration enforcement measure, what the Sooner State has done seems well worth imitating elsewhere for pocketbook-related reasons alone.
As to the legal and moral dimensions of limiting illegal immigration, I would suggest that the hand-wringers first aim their critiques at other countries which deal much more harshly with trespassers — starting with Mexico.