Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Immigration and Wages
I live in a condo building (not the one pictured above) and recently we put the job of window washing out to bid. I was astounded at how low the cost was - less than $3000 for a 100+ unit building. Window washing is a dangerous job (although I don't have statistics) and one that probably is hard to recruit for; they typically operate with just a rope and a bucket like the guy in this photo rather than working off a scaffold which at least seems less "seat of the pants". I was in my unit when the window washers came by and I could hear them talking in Spanish as they worked their way down the side of the building.
Now do I know that the group that bid on our window washing employed illegals? No. But given the price that they quoted to wash the entire building, I can't believe that they paid their employees that much in order to have a profit left over. And I assume that they aren't operating their window washing business as a public charity.
On the one hand I despair for someone in this country without much in the way of schooling or skills; you are competing against some very motivated (likely) illegal workers. Just think about how motivated that you have to be to jump down the side of a building with only a rope and a bucket and spend all day in the cold, swaying in the wind, washing windows.
The US would look very different without illegal workers; imagine all the lawns, kitchens and construction labor that would be lacking, not to mention all the nannies that watch kids while moms work across the country.
The interesting question is whether businesses would invest in labor saving machinery (automatic window machines) or pay more for labor if the labor laws were tightened. It likely would be a mix of both depending on the activity at hand and how hard it would be to automate. Japan allows very little immigration and it is not a coincidence that they lead the world in robotics technology and automation.
But at least my windows are clean...