It’s how many, not who, that matters

David Brooks lays out some interesting numbers:

We issue about 5,000 visas for unskilled year-round labor annually, but the economy requires hundreds of thousands of new workers to clean hotel rooms and process food. We need these workers but we force them underground with our self-delusional immigration policies. As Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute says, “It’s very hard to enforce unrealistic rules….”

That still leaves the transitional problem of what to do with the 11 million illegals who are already here. We can’t build an aboveground immigration system if we’ve still got millions living in a criminal swamp below.

I don’t think much of Brooks’ column – unsurprisingly, he recommends an amnesty with teeth program to basically maintain the status quo – but that 11 million number caught my attention. Let me just highlight two other numbers by way of comparison.

11 million: estimated illegal immigration total
21 million: legal immigration 1970-2000
34 million: women entering labor force 1970-2000

In other words, the changes in women’s preference for working have almost surely had a more depressing effect on wages than all legal and illegal immigration combined, even if one does not bother to consider the fact that working women had previously been domestic consumers, while immigrants, obviously, were not.

Of course, it’s probable that a significant part of those 32 million immigrants are part of the 34 million newly employed women, but the point remains nevertheless.