Research Paper: Sociological Research and Undocumented Labor

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Sociological Research and Undocumented Labor

One of the most basic needs in life is the urge to take care of one's family. To that end, many individuals in other countries who, for various political, social, or economic reasons, are unable to feed their families tend to gravitate towards countries they perceive have the desire and resources to allow them to do so. One theory of immigration, in fact, emphasizes the difference between push and pull factors. Push factors refer to motives, usually economic (wage differences, etc.) in richer countries, even the very poor may realize a higher standard of living than in their home country. Pull factors focus on large numbers of people leaving because of a tragedy or agricultural blight, or forced labor (e.g. The slave trade) (Meyers, 2000). There have been very few mass migrations since the early part of the 20th century, and it makes sense that as transportation technology improved (travel time), and more opportunities for unskilled labor in the Developed World, more would try to escape poverty and flow from poorer places to rich countries. Indeed, one of the challenges for some of the poorer immigrants is that they are expected to send money back to the host country on a regular basis, making it difficult to save enough to allow the family to move as well (Damon, 1981).

The United States has always been a country of immigrants. In the early years this was how the population was built, and in fact from 1950 to 1930, the foreign born population of the United States increased from 2 to 14 million, making it the highest point in history. From 1880 to 1924, over 20 million more traveled into the U.S., falling off because of the Immigration Act of 1924, which favored only certain source countries (Immigration Act of 1924, 2009). The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, removed quotas to allow for more immigration, which surged to 27.5 million in 2006 (Ohlemacher, 2007). Since then, about 1 million people immigrate annually, almost 50% illegally, and most of those from Mexico and Central America, with China, India, and the Philippines coming in second. Despite the U.S.'s nickname of the Melting Pot, since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the politics of immigration has become a polarized political issue, and a central topic in the 2008 election (U.S. Immigration Debate, 2007).

The central focus of the problem is that there are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most poorly educated, unskilled, yet they fill the jobs that most native-born Americans will not take, at least at the same price of labor (undocumented workers can receive lower than minimum wage, since they cannot complain to anyone). Much of the labor for America's agricultural industry, from Texas through California and even up to the Pacific Northwest, relies on undocumented workers (Mooney, Knox and Schacht, 2008, 149-56). Undocumented workers have both a micro and macro-economic effect on the economy. Certainly in specific industries, the effect is quite large: fast food, manual labor, agriculture, hospitality services, and landscaping.

However, within micro economies, regional areas, there can be a profound effect upon the local population, driving the wages down so they are not even reaching the subsistence mark. Social services that are offered, though, do have a cost associated with the particular service. Illegal aliens typically do not access too many public services, they are afraid of being identified and expelled. Welfare is almost unheard of; but educational expenses for the children run about $550/individual; and unemployment compensation about $140/individual. There are also other types of social services (e.g. food banks, shelter organizations that have quite limited resources and are sometimes unable to handle the native-born populations that seek them out. Two factors enter into play here: 1) the cost of the displaced U.S. citizen and 2) costs incurred in lost revenues paid into the system; social security, other State and regional taxes. These types of statistics are difficult to ascertain simply because of the lack of documentation, but are estimated in total, of about $1M per annum in unrecoverable assets. Most of the illegal immigrant population now is under 45, so in order to establish even a basal relationship a series of longitudinal studies must address the issue over time, societal segment, and then medical or social services offered (Lee, 663).

Socio-Cultural Issues -- While there are numerous socio-cultural issues affecting the large pool of undocumented workers in the United States, we can group three together that have a particular moral focus: the lack of adequate social services one might expect for any human being, educational issues for the undocumented workers' children, and the lack of adequate medical services and the resulting issues engendered.

The conundrum surrounding this issue certainly has a strict legal guideline, but that legal guideline is not the same as a moral or ethical template. We know that it is illegal to hire undocumented workers, and as such, there is no legal protection that provides this disenfranchised population group with required services for themselves and their children. Because of this lack of preventative care, we often find that the actual cost to society is greater when emergency services are needed. Certainly, the population of worker's children remain at risk -- moving from school to school, lacking in dental and heatlh care, and even the costs to the system when undocumented workers require medical services (Difficult Moral Questions Surounding Undocumented Workers, 2006).

The issue of care for the undocumented is gaining more direct attention now that there is such a fervant debate regarding health care for American citizens. Most states that have a high population of undocumented workers, primarily in the agricultural sector, estimate several hundred million to the low billions in expenses for care to the undocumented. When one adds the educational expenses, we can see that it easily totals several billion dollars per annum, without a hope of collecting any reimbursement since these workers usually pay no tax. Additionally, the research clearly shows that undocumented immigrants are driving up the costs of healthcare nationwide. The Pew Hispanic Center, in fact, estimates that almost 60% of undocumented workers have no insurance at all, compared to 25% legal immigrants and 15% American citizens; all of which show a dramatic 30% increase since the 1980s. This is causing many state legislatures, trying to balance budgets during fiscally challenging times, to consider the legal, but certainly morally controversial, process of turning away non-U.S. citizens even more emergency care. The situation is difficult to adequately measure, though, since most hosptials do not ask for, nor require, residency in order to treat patients -- but only ask whether the individual has insurance (Wolf, 2008).

It is not at all surprising that the American public remains quite divided about this issue. Under the new House Bill 3962, the issue of insurance payments for undocumented workers is clearly addressed:

Undocumented workers may purchase health care insurance at the same discounted rate as U.S. citizens and receive coverage under the public health insurance option.

The verification processes for Medicaid and affordability credits are so cumbersome, many undocumented workers will slide through the system

Undocumented women who do not have any insurance but who give birth inside the U.S. will be covered at full cost by the U.S. taxpayer

Unless individual states ban emergency funds, this type of care will continue (Rector, 2009).

Thus we see a clear set of mixed messages -- no legal protection for undocumented workers, but emergency and last resort care funded by the taxpayer. This exacerrbates the issue and divisive nature between the groups even more.

The economic impact of undocumented workers is complex -- they purchase goods and services, and contribute labor, but then also require social services and education, law enforcement, and healthcare, but typically do not pay anything other than excise taxes. Additionally, they also affect the ability for U.S. citizens to earn wages and perform some job functions, while at the same time working in conditions and occupations that many citizens refuse to enter. Some economists actually believe that when taken in tandem, the overall effect is a small net positive to most Americans. and, that undocumented workers are less of a negative than increasing automation, foreign outsourcing, and global trade (Davidson, 2006).

Educational issues for children are even more complex for undocumented workers. There are obvious costs to providing textbooks, school lunches, teacher salaries and building support that are typically covered by property taxed; all of which are not part of the undocumented worker's experience. In addition, though, because of the nature of the work, undocumented laborers often move around a great deal, whether by season, crop rotation, or project. This places an increditble strain upon the children; both in their ability to keep up in school, learn English, and the excessive use of resources because they must, in effect, start over each time the family moves. This is in the short and medium term; in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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