Just five weeks ago, polling indicated that Brits overwhelmingly favored remaining in the European Union by an 18-point margin, 57% to 39%. What changed? Maybe it was a startling report showing that 80% of new jobs over the past year had gone to foreign-born workers taking advantage of the EU’s free movement policy.
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It’s hard to say if that was the wakeup call that led to a sharp reversal and Thursday’s historic vote to leave the EU, but it was nevertheless a stunning realization that Prime Minister David Cameron had failed to stem the tide of immigrant workers flooding the UK’s job market, as he had promised to do.
Meanwhile, a laundry list of commentators from the Washington Post and Esquire to Vox and the New York Times chalked it all up to millions of racist xenophobes who are terrified of immigrants mucking up their pristine white privileged world. If that sounds at all similar to the anti-Trump rhetoric, you can sort of see where this is going.
The thing is, there’s nothing even remotely irrational or bigoted about the alarming transformation of Britain’s job market. Since 1997, the number of foreign-born workers has doubled to one in six. And since 2014, three EU migrants have found jobs for every Brit, according to official government figures. And, as we’ll see in a minute, there are concerning parallels on this side of the pond, as well.
I hear from college grads and experienced professionals looking for jobs all the time, but a recent inquiry from a 27-year-old Edinburgh, Scotland woman with a BS in microbiology and excellent grades got my attention. She has applied for more than 400 jobs without managing to secure an interview. Not a single one.
This woman’s resume is packed with relevant experience, internships and volunteer work. She’s an active networker and member of STEM societies. She’s smart and articulate. She has a strong work ethic. And she’s happy to “start out at the bottom,” she says, “anything to get a foot in the ladder.” All, to no avail.
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When I pushed her to help me understand how someone so qualified could end up in such dire straits, this hard-working and proud individual who was loath to make any excuses finally let it all out: “The reality is the free movement of EU citizens and higher living wage in the UK has exacerbated the job crisis over the last 10 years or so,” she said.
“It’s almost impossible to predict which industry to train in because in the time it takes to complete a degree or apprenticeship, more member states have joined the EU and filled any gaps in the market,” she said. “The market has been so heavily saturated due to dying industries and increased migration that young people are very much surplus and many of us are ourselves migrating.”
While the situation in America isn’t nearly as bad, there are clear parallels. In 1970, foreign-born workers accounted for just 5% of the U.S. civilian labor force, but that number has since more than tripled to one in six – identical to the UK figure.
More concerning is that the workforce itself has continued to shrink over the same period. Whether that reflects increasing competition, lack of in-demand skillsets or both doesn’t really matter. The net result is that foreigners are getting more of our jobs, and that’s as true of offshore jobs as it is of onshore jobs.
Think about it. Apple has created well over a million jobs, but 90% of them are outsourced to China. Google may not make phones and tablets, but the vast majority of Android-enabled mobile devices are manufactured in Asia. Of course, that’s true of nearly every industry, old or new.
We may not face the identical migrant worker problem that the UK has, but the net result is the same: By giving up more and more jobs we create to foreign-born immigrants and offshore contractors, that leaves fewer and fewer jobs and increasing competition for American citizens.
No wonder Donald Trump’s campaign has ignited a growing nationalism movement. We’re creating jobs and giving them away. We’ve let globalization get away from us. It’s abundantly clear that we don’t have the right public policies in place to incentivize corporations to keep Americans gainfully employed.
Back in 2010, former Intel chairman Andy Grove penned How America Can Create Jobs. The front-page Bloomberg BusinessWeek feature clearly outlined the perils of losing our manufacturing muscle and declared the need for public policy that puts jobs first, even if it does means constraining free trade with tariffs, trade war be damned.
Grove’s bold piece was embraced by some, panned by others and largely ignored. Whether he or Trump have exactly the right solution to the globalization and immigration problems plaguing free-market economies throughout the western world doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’ve identified a problem that needs to be solved before it’s too late. So did the British people when they voted to exit the EU.
Economic prosperity and security must trump political correctness and ideology. The Brits got it right. Will we?