With millions of native-born people desperate for income, those jobs presumed to be too menial are now acceptable – a point to remember in the immigration debate.
With fewer jobs for Americans these days, are there fewer jobs that Americans won't do?
The answer will influence whether Congress decides to grant amnesty to some 11 million illegal immigrants in the US, perhaps by next year.
Most illegal workers in the US are Mexicans who mow lawns, clean motel sheets, butcher hogs, pick strawberries, and otherwise toil away at tasks that, as George W. Bush once said, "Americans won't do." And they often are paid less than the minimum wage.
A widely held assumption in Washington's debate about immigration is that native-born Americans avoid menial and dirty work. Laid-off autoworkers wouldn't really wash dishes at a Denny's or milk cows on a dairy farm, would they? Such a notion has long helped justify a flow of foreign workers into the US – or possibly an amnesty for those hiding from the law.
Recent recessions have been short enough that jobless Americans who rely on government benefits waited for a "good job" to return. But this "Great Recession" has been long and deep. The unemployment rate has doubled from 4.7 to 9.4 percent, and it may keep rising into next year. Many layoffs appear permanent as whole industries have collapsed and new fields, such as clean energy, are slow to emerge. The percentage of Americans "mal-employed" – working below their skill or education – is higher than in recent recessions.