Home » Distributive Justice » Illegal Immigrant Wages and Impact in New Jersey

Illegal Immigrant Wages and Impact in New Jersey

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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I decided I can only respond to certain critics of my blog by breaking down their comments into smaller, more manageable chunks . And then I can only answer their questions that have actual, verifiable answers. Here is a small portion of one of my most recent critics comments from a blog post of mine entitled “America at the Crossroad of Crisis.” His comment reads in part:

“The idea that migrants and even those who are here illegally are not taking away the jobs of “Americans” is superficial bull at best. When labor unions price the services of union members to a point that few can afford such labor then will that not create job opportunities for those willing to work for far less? What is the hourly wage for a carpenter in your state or general locality? What is the rate for an electrician or a plumber?”

First, a clarifying anecdote 

A few years back I hired a middle aged factory worker named Tony to mow my lawn. I mowed my lawn for many years but suffer allergic reactions every time. I finally got smart.

Tony has a part-time lawn service to supplement his factory salary. He hires kids to help him in the summer. He told me that he paid the last young man $12.00/hr to weed-wack and leaf blow. Several weeks into the summer his helper quit to take a part-time job flipping burgers for $7.25 per hours. The kid said landscaping work was too much work.

If you read my blog or articles you know that I am very concerned about the fact the US wages have been suppressed by big business for nearly 40 years.

The US median household income for a family of four is currently about $52,000 per year. Cost of living varies state by state and New Jersey have among the highest. It is also among the wealthiest states. The median income for a family of four in New Jersey is $71,637 per year.


The annual average wage for all carpenters (union or otherwise) is $37,000 per year in New Jersey. Annual carpenter wages range from a low of $28,000 to a high of $66,000 per year.

This means that even union carpenters in New Jersey straddle the US median family income, and all carpenters make below the state median income. Nearly half of all the New Jersey carpenters with a family are not financially independent. Either their spouse must work , or they must moonlight to make ends meet. On their own fulltime wages, many single income carpenters in New Jersey qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.


The annual average wage for all electricians (union or otherwise) in New Jersey is $45,000 per year. Annual electricians wages range from a low of $16,000 to a high of $111,000 per year.

Most electricians are better off in New Jersey than are carpenters or plumbers. Even so, the average electrician in New Jersey makes less than the US median income and far less than the New Jersey median income. On their own fulltime wages alone, some single income electricians in New Jersey still qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.


The annual average wage for all plumbers (union or otherwise) in New Jersey is $26,000 per year. Annual plumber wages range from a low of $22,000 to a high of $102,000 per year.

Notice how close to the average plumber wages the low end of plumber wages are? That means most plumbers are making close to the lower end of the range in New Jersey. Plumbers do worse economically than carpenters or electricians. Most make far less than the US median wage and only about a third of the New Jersey median salary. On their fulltime wages alone, most single income plumbers in New Jersey qualify for some form of taxpayer subsidy such as daycare assistance or housing assistance.

Immigrant Annual Wages

It isn’t easy to find solid data on the annual incomes of undocumented immigrants, but there are many independent studies and scholarly works that found undocumented immigrants are not taking away our jobs or costing us taxpayer money (references upon request). Even the very conservative US Chamber of Commerce agrees.

It is estimated that undocumented farm workers in the US make between $10,000 and $12,000 per year. The authors of that analysis also noted that, unlike most workers, wages for an undocumented worker almost never rise over time. This fact agrees with my own experiences. I have many acquaintances who are undocumented aliens. They live in the shadows, don’t complain and don’t get raises. It is almost certain that undocumented aliens makes less than $23,000 per year, and probably much less.

Another study in Chicago found that the average wage of undocumented aliens in that city was $7.00 per hour, which is $1.00 below that states minimum wage.  I haven’t found a similar study for New Jersey’s undocumented aliens yet, but suspect their average wage is at or near the minimum wage as well. Note that minimum wage in New Jersey is the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hours. A person working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks would make just over $15,000 per year.

New Jersey has the fifth largest number of undocumented aliens in the county. Many work at minimum wage and many also work below minimum wage. Almost all work more than 40 hours per week, so their annual family incomes are not directly comparable to the annual family incomes of others who work more traditional hours. Also, the number of employable adults in immigrant household are often more than in traditional families. For these reasons, the household incomes of undocumented aliens is a skewed measure. What immigrants lack in wage rates they make up for in the number of hours the spend work.

Given the huge wage rate disparity between undocumented immigrants wages and the wages of even the lowest paid, non-union plumbers, none of whom work for minimum wage, it seem unlikely that foreign born workers are taking away many US jobs. It is my experience, living next to a town that is 75% Latino, that most undocumented immigrants have jobs that no one else born here wants for wages that most Americans would never accept. As a result of their discounted labor we enjoy discounted farm produce, discounted nursing home care, discounted restaurant meals, etc.

Immigrants in New Jersey

Immigrants and their children are growing shares of New Jersey’s population and electorate.

(Source: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/new-americans-new-jersey)

· The foreign-born share of New Jersey’s population rose from 12.5% in 1990, to 17.5% in 2000, to 21.6% in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New Jersey was home to 1.9 million immigrants in 2013, which is more than the population of the entire state of Nebraska.

· 53% of immigrants (or over 1 million people) in New Jersey were naturalized U.S. citizens in2013 —meaning that they are eligible to vote.

Immigrants Economic Impact on New Jersey

  • Unauthorized immigrants comprised 5.8% of the state’s population (or 525,000 people) in2012, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center
  • The 2014 purchasing power of New Jersey’s Latinos totaled $46 billion—an increase of 415% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $46.3 billion—an increase of 727% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
  • Immigration boosts housing values in communities. From 2000 to 2010, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, the value added by immigration to the price of the average home was $3,730 in Bergen County; $6,121 in Middlesex County; $1,875 in Essex County; $2,050 in Monmouth County; $2,096 in Hudson County, $2,509 in Union County, and $1,896 in Camden County.
  • New Jersey’s 67,755 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $29.9 billion and employed 115,024 people in 2007, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 68,374 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $10.2 billion and employed 48,059 people in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.
  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 101,251 new immigrant business owners in New Jersey, and they had total net business income of $6.2 billion, which makes up 22.4% of all net business income in the state, according to Robert Fairlie of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • In 2010, 28% of all business owners in New Jersey were foreign-born, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. In 2013,35.3% of business owners in the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island metropolitan area were foreign-born, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute and Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Furthermore, 49% of “Main Street” business owners—owners of businesses in the retail, accommodation and food services, and neighborhood services sectors—in the New York-Northern New Jersey metro area were foreign-born in 2013.

The other point here is this, it is much easy to make credible sounding claims on the internet disparaging other demographic groups of people than it is to research and debunk such claims. The person to whom I am responding will never accept the information I provided here for them to consider, but others who read this might be less inclined to believe everything anyone says about “illegal” immigrants in the future. (I hope)



  1. Like many progressive liberals you believe that an economy runs by political fiat or central planning. All we have to do is make a wish and it all comes true. Why has Venezuela fallen apart? The farmers use to grow enough to feed the country and now people in the cities are starving, why is that? I find is so very discouraging that so many individuals whose intentions are good are often the cause of so much destruction in this world. The road to hell, as so often said is paved with good intentions. Let me add that often gross ignorance has been a large factor in the pavement.

    Economics 101, Supply and Demand. Yes it is a law. It works, it hasn’t been shown to be false. What has been shown is that when we as individuals or as a government interfere with the normal setting, we corrupt its workings. Of course we are talking about the “Free Market” where supply and demand meet. Supply and demand mean that there is a mechanism for exchange. Barter is one system, money is another. By the way, money is really a third part transaction that makes the barter easier to do. Money is a store of value. It is that thing that is worth what we believe it to be worth. Credit is another form of money but it is incomplete. When you spend money you give some store of value for some good or service. When you spend credit you exchange a store of value that is a debt for some good or service. So far, so good.

    If I have the only apple tree and all my neighbors was to buy apples my supply of apples is constrained by the number of apples my tree will produce. This is the supply side ofthe equation. The demand is how many apples my neighbors individually and collectively want. If my tree suffers through a drought the number of apples it produces will decline. Does that mean that the demand for apples by my neighbors be reduced? Not at all. But i may not harvest enough apples to meet their demands. On the other hand, if my tree produces too many apples then there is not enough demand for all of them. Assuming I am selling apples for a uniform store of value then I would need to reduce my price in order to sell them all. Now economics calls this price discovery, that is, how supply and demand actually work. Price is determined by both supply of a good or service and the present demand of that good or service.

    Moving right along, this is how wages are determined to a large extent. The supply of labor in a free market will interact with the demand for labor. But what if we restrict one of the other? We have a union that demands higher wages than those who demand labor are willing to pay. A union artificially restricts or interferes with the free market. There are several ways to deal with high union wage demands. The first is to pass along that wage increase to customers and hope that the demand for the product or service is not diminished. The second is to use capital (also known as savings) to invest in machinery that increases production with the same or fewer workers. We could talk about all manner of ways that unions and businesses use to try and control production but that is a waste of time for our purposes. Just remember why there is a disparity of wages in carpenters, electricians and plumbers is due to the craft system where an apprentice starts at a very low wage while he or she is being trained on the job. The journeyman makes more because he knows more and has demonstrated a greater skill at performing the work. The master, in the case of electricians and plumbers, is licensed by the state and thus empowered to do all parts of the job without need of building inspectors.

    So unions and minimum wage laws set an artificial floor under wages. The irony of minimum wage laws is that it is illegal for any worker to actually take less wage than the government mandates. If minimum wage applied to someone who mowed your lawn the taking less per hour is illegal no matter how much he or she need to income. If you are an immigrant and you were trained as a carpenter or cement finisher, unless you join the union you are not suppose to work union jobs. The catch is joining the union. Membership is very restrictive and not open to migrants per se. That is fact, by the way. In fact, union membership is not open to most Americans. One has to be recommended by a union member when there is an opening. That used to keep blacks out of the unions until the justice departments came down of the major unions, then concessions were made. It’s all a matter of history, by the way.

    But back to your example of the three trade unions mentioned. If one cannot obtain membership in one of those unions the what do you do if you are an immigrant? You hire yourself out to whoever is willing to hire you for far less than union wages. There is literally a black market for construction trades union work. That is a fact. That means that if you are a contractor and want to compete with other contractors for business your one edge is labor cost. If you want to build houses then you hire non union workers. It may come as a surprise to you but there are a great many tract home developers that use non union workers all over the country. And there are plenty of small contractors who do the small jobs and use illegal migrants. I can go to any medium or large city and find where to hire these people. This is an example of supply and demand, it’s how it works.

    Well, does this happen for all projects? No, depends of the size and who is paying. If one is building roads then it is all union work because the various governments demand it. Large buildings are the same way. Union iron workers won’t work with no union craft. But legal immigrants do take a significant amount of work from the building trades union members. And illegal immigrants add to that amount.

    But it is not just union craft work that matters. Hotel maids, nannies and household help comprise just a part of the working class of both legal and illegal immigrant workers. Meat packing plants are often raided by ICE looking for illegal immigrants. People who come to America illegally aren’t sitting on their collective butts waiting for a green card or legal work. If you believe that then you really are stupid. They come to find work and a better life than what they have had.

    So you love playing with numbers, whoopie for you. But what do the numbers really tell you? I love it when someone says that on average black drivers are pulled over for speeding on New Jersey high ways than white drives and that’s evidence of racial profiling. Well, for one, an average only describes the data, it is not evidence for any type of analysis. Number two, in a recent study of traffic on New Jersey highways more black drivers were recorded as speeding that white drivers. How then is the ticketing of black drivers for speeding racial profiling?

    Now back when I was doing experiments in cognitive psychology what had been impressed upon me was the idea of a research question and whether such research would contribute to the store of scientific knowledge. Social sciences seem to love to over produce studies and quasi experiments without much thought on that question. But I was looking at a particular visual effect and wanted to know if aural interference would interrupt affect it. I picked a dany visual effect, one that was not generally known but looked promising. The research question was whether aural interference interferes with visual effects. the results were that at best, the experiment was neutral, that is, the basis for a negative hypothesis was slim but not convincing. Meaning that it was due more to chance.

    The interesting part of this visual effect was that not all the subjects could actually see the effect. Even as the experimenter I could not see the effect. This means that individuals differences play a part in this particular experiment. Of course when we add to that the fact than the participants were college students who were require, against their will to take part in an experiment, well, that adds in another degree of bias. You see, it is easy to do research that fits one’s agenda. God knows I have read hundreds of such research studies, even the refereed ones where one would have thought the learned referees would have known better. Physics, Chemistry, Biology have their share of bad science. But Psychology has been known to have quite a few real bad studies. As for the social sciences, an oxymoron if ever there was one, so many of those studies are worthless. And the major reason for suspecting their worthlessness is due to the agenda of the researchers. One wants to prove the hypothesis false, not true. Yet so many are conducted to prove the hypothesis true regardless of the conditions. Give me the right numbers and I can prove anything. So pardon me if I take a jaundiced eye towards your writing. You don’t ring true.

    With that i bid you adieu.

  2. DataHeart says:

    Readers of this blog will note that I took just one question from your long and rambling response to an earlier posting of mine. I carefully researched the answer for you. I provided a full reply containing 22 links to sources from which you can read, and judge the original data supplying my answer.

    In counter to my response you wrote this very long, also rambling reply, filled personal assessments and naked assertions. You offered no links to any data informing your opinions.

    So pardon me if I take a jaundiced eye toward your writing as well. Still, I thank you responding and I encourage you to keep reading materials that may be outside your comfort zone.

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