Immigration isn’t the problem, poverty is.

(https://unsplash.com/photos/sf9zGg5DnFw)

I think about the concept of poverty quite a bit. It’s not because I “feel bad” for those in poverty. It’s because I think that poverty is at the root of all our current major problems in society, particularly in developed countries throughout the world.

Though I’ve gotten to understand how poverty is at the root of a lot of our problems, I’ve been wanting to better understand what we can do about it. Toward that end, I’ll be exploring poverty through the lens of this audio series from WNYC’s On the Media, doing my own research and sharing my thoughts over the next 2–3 weeks. I hope you’ll join me and learn with me on this journey.

Let’s set up the premise, though. First off, what does poverty mean? Then, I’ll do a quick overview into how poverty relates to some of our societal problems today (trade & immigration).

What is poverty?

In the US, poverty has monetary thresholds that range from about $12,000-$41,000+ (depending on how many people are in the household).

As of late, by these standards, the percent of US households in poverty have ranged from 11%-15%.

Those are the #s, yes, but I define poverty as such:

Poverty is the lack of opportunity to work hard and achieve a basic standard of living, including financial & physical well-being.

This definition introduces concepts like social mobility and wealth inequality. Is the structure of our economy giving people the opportunity to achieve a good standard of living? Do our poor have a difficult time getting out of poverty? I’m sure we‘ll explore these concepts within these next couple posts.

How poverty lies at the root of our problems

It all comes down to this: because people feel like they’re in poverty (unable to work hard and live a reasonably good life), they look for something to blame their situation on.

Trade

Generally, trade has the effect of allowing certain countries to specialize in certain goods. In theory, by allowing for this specialization and open trade borders, it allows everyone to receive products at a better value (whether that be in price or quality).

So the benefit that the US has garnered is the ability to consume goods at a lower cost, but at the cost of some jobs. If we were to re-think how the US approached free trade, though, we likely would have slowed the pace of adoption. We did end up disrupting our workforce a bit too much.

So people think that trade will further take away their jobs. This is true to an extent, but what benefits would we receive in return? And I do believe that there’s a smarter way that we can conduct trade. But, if we could fix poverty here in the US, I guarantee that ‘smart’ free trade would be embraced in a heart beat.

Immigration

Immigration is very similar to Trade in many ways (instead of goods, it’s the movement of labor across borders). The example of net immigration from Mexico perfectly encapsulates this idea.

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/raw-data-illegal-immigration-mexico

When the economy was bad, more people left the US for Mexico than came in from Mexico. Liberal media seems to only report the data up to 2014, but a conservative source says that net immigration rose dramatically in 2015.

When there’s sufficient slack in our labor market, then people will try to come here. When there isn’t slack, then people will actually leave.

With that said, undocumented immigrants do have the effect of pushing that slack to its extremes. Immigration is generally a plus for our economy, so we should encourage smart immigration policies, while also instituting strong protection of our borders. But again, if poverty were reduced, immigration wouldn’t be viewed as the problem.

You may be asking, how about poverty in developing countries? My thought on that is this: if we can’t reduce poverty here in the richest country in the world, one with strong institutions and strong rule of law, how could we do it there? Let’s solve poverty here and lead the world by example.


I do have some ideas already on how we could fix poverty here in the US, but I’d like to to keep doing research over these next few weeks before forming a more complete world view.