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Published December 15, 2021

Tom Broadwater: Immigration is hurting job prospects for Black Americans

In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors reported that immigration had “increased the relative supply of less-educated labor and appears to have contributed to the increasing inequality of income."

But the specific story of how immigration has undercut Blacks’ economic opportunity throughout American history is detailed most comprehensively in Roy Beck’s book “Back of the Hiring Line: A 200-Year History of Immigration Surges, Employer Bias, and Depression of Black Wealth.”

In contrast with the questionable, superficial arguments that politicians make about the merits of more immigration, it turns out that during the period of relatively restricted immigration between 1924 and 1965, the inflation-adjusted incomes of Black men grew 400% versus 250% for white men, and the proportion of Black middle class families tripled, from 22% to 71%.

The iron law of supply and demand hasn’t changed since the mid-20th century.
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Back Cover Text


While most Americans justifiably celebrate Ellis Island ancestors, here are the stories of what the long period of mass immigration after the Civil War meant to freed slaves, their children and grandchildren in the hiring lines of America: decades of delays in gaining industrial job experience, skills and career connections, and constant setbacks in accumulating and transferring wealth.

Average Black household wealth in the 21st century is only a fraction of the wealth of other racial ethnic groups, including recent immigrants. There are many reasons. This book is about one of them: periodic sustained immigration surges over the last two centuries.

This is a little-told story of the struggles of freed slaves and their descendants to climb job ladders in the eras of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Barbara Jordan, and other African American Leaders who advocated tight-labor migration policies. It is a great history of bitter disappointment and, occasionally, of great hope.

Linda Beck