Saturday, June 1, 2024

100 Years Ago, the US Took a Break From Immigration — and America Thrived

100 years ago, the US took a break from immigration — and America thrived:
One hundred years ago this Sunday, the Ellis Island wave of immigration was brought to an end.
And all Americans are better for it.
For decades we’ve been taught to be ashamed of the period of immigration restriction the law inaugurated.
And it’s true that many supporters of the 1924 immigration law were motivated by racial and ethnic concerns that are rightly rejected today.
The descendants of the Southern and Eastern Europeans whose mass arrival prompted passage of the law (including my own forebears) are now integral parts of the American people.
But it was precisely the two-generation-long pause in immigration brought about by the bill that made the earlier Great Wave a success.
Only by taking an extended breather was America able to successfully assimilate the 25 million-plus newcomers who’d arrived after 1880.
The pause in immigration led to a half-century-long decline in the foreign-born share of the population, from a level that fluctuated between 13% and 15% of the nation’s inhabitants during the Great Wave, to a low of less than 5% in 1970.
Immigrant communities were thus not continually refreshed with newcomers; that, combined with vigorous and self-confident Americanization efforts in schools and elsewhere, forged the strong common national identity that helped America prevail over Nazism and Communism.
Bettmann Archive
Without the endless stream of immigrants from Europe, employers had little choice but to raise wages and improve working conditions.
The immigration pause changed the employer-employee dynamic from one where workers had to hustle to find jobs to one where companies had to hustle to find labor.
All Americans — as well as immigrants already here — benefited, but the gains for black Americans were the greatest and most obvious.
Not only were jobs that had been closed to them opened up, but recruiters for industrialists actually roamed the South essentially begging people, black or white, to come work for them.
Without the 1924 law, the Great Migration of blacks to the North and West — described most memorably in “The Warmth of Other Suns” — could not have happened.
From virtually all black Americans living in the South, by 1970 almost half lived outside the South, drawn by the employment opportunities opened up by the 1924 law.
This tighter labor market contributed to reducing economic inequality more generally and allowing the growth of a large middle class.
Simply put, a tight labor market (i.e., low immigration) is the best social policy.
There’s no doubt that various flavors of bigotry drove much of the support for the 1924 law, with hokum about “Nordic superiority” and whatnot, leading to a system of national origin quotas that favored certain nations and disfavored others. --->READ MORE HERE
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