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Deporting Dreamers won't mend Americans' broken spirit

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- This Labor Day, I skipped the barbecue and instead forced myself to digest a morsel of truth that is unappetizing but undeniable: Americans are facing a work crisis.

By this, I mean that -- for all the complaints about globalization, corporate greed, closed factories, lost jobs, immigrants and falling wages -- the fact of the matter is that many Americans just don't want to work anymore.

Or maybe, it's more accurate to say that a lot of Americans have -- in the era of the welfare state and unionized labor -- become comfortable with the idea of not working. The romantic notion -- so prevalent in the 20th century -- of putting in a good day's work for a good day's wage is passe.

Today, when people negotiate contracts with employers, their goal is to get as much money and vacation time as possible. That is, to reap the maximum amount of benefit from the minimum amount of effort.

Of course, most of us have to work. But while our grandparents lived to work, many of us now work to live. While immigrants might open a restaurant and then make plans to launch 10 more, the native-born increasingly define success as being able to sell the restaurant and retire at 40.

Still, Americans are a proud people. And so it's not easy for us to admit that -- when it comes to drive, determination and work ethic -- we can't hold a candle to our grandparents. Many of us have soft hands, and we spend our days in air-conditioned offices looking at spreadsheets and pecking at keyboards.

 

Thus, rather than admit the truth, we make up excuses to avoid competing for high-tech jobs we can't do and low-skilled jobs we don't want to do.

We insist that foreign workers get jobs that we think should go to Americans not because there is anything wrong with us but because there is something wrong with foreign workers. Namely, that they'll work cheap and they're easier to exploit.

That's what a caller told me recently during a radio show I was hosting. Identifying himself as a Republican and a supporter of the notion of a global economy, he nonetheless claimed that Americans couldn't be expected to compete with legal immigrants for jobs in the technology sector because "the playing field isn't level." After all, he said, programmers from India and China will work for lower salaries.

I thought he was kidding. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Intel are not exactly known for underpaying their workers. In fact, many of their employees go on to become millionaires. It's no wonder that there are long lines of applicants vying for the chance to be exploited by the titans of Silicon Valley.

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