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Immigration Stream drying up causes Shortage of Unskilled Labor in 1925

FOR THE FIRST TIME in our immigration history we lost, in the fiscal year which ended June 30, more unskilled workers than we gained. Six European countries failed to fill their allotted quotas, and sixteen received back from the United States more of their own nationals than emigrated to this country.

Is this striking evidence of improving economic conditions in Europe, or are we getting unpopular? What is happening to immigration? The conclusion of the Indianapolis Star is that the present Immigration Law, which limits immigration, with certain exceptions, to 2 per cent. of the number of foreign-born from the same country who were living in the United States in 1890, "has not only checked the influx of aliens, but it has done so to a much greater degree than was expected." The fact that natives of practically all the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe returned home in larger numbers than they arrived is evidence to the Providence Journal that "the aims of the sponsors of the law have been achieved."

But what of the economic import of these statistics? "This aspect deserves serious thought," believes the St. Paul Dispatch, "particularly at a time of increasing prosperity and growing need of labor." Manufacturers and other employers, observes the Manchester Union, "say the greatest immigration problem just now is not too much immigration, but too little." This leads the New Orleans Times-Picayune to predict that "the clamor against our restrictive law may be renewed at the coming session of Congress," while to the New York Journal of Commerce:

  "Figures for the first full year of the operation of the existing Immigration Law, particularly when coupled with the rather evident intention of the American Federation of Labor to go to further lengths if it can in excluding foreign labor, certainly suggest some very real dangers. The pertinent facts are: Total incoming aliens, 294,314; total departures, 92,728; leaving a net influx of aliens of 201,586. Net inflow of 42,422 skilled laborers, as compared with 143,616 during the preceding year. Net farm-labor immigration 14,762, as compared with 27,233 during the year before. Net loss in unskilled laborers 15,106, as compared with a gain of 70,742 during the previous twelve months. There was a substantial net outflow of peoples to South and Southeastern Europe, including departures to Italy of nearly 21,000. Some 130,193 persons over and above departures came in from Mexico and Canada, nearly two-thirds of the total net inflow of aliens.
  "The law as it stands has put an end to the additions to our labor force that used to come from Italy and other southern and southeastern European countries, and has for the most part turned the tide in the other direction. That, of course, is what the unions have wanted all along and, needless to say, they are not in the least disturbed by it. They are, however, distinctly disquieted by the increasing number of aliens coming in from Mexico. These workmen are without high standards of living, and if they become numerous enough could without much doubt become, if indeed they have not on occasion already become, a thorn in the side of union officials, who are ever striving for higher money wages, quite regardless of the economic consequences to the men or to the nation at large.
  "But to the dispassionate observer of the course of economic events the interesting question is what will be the ultimate effect upon the nation's business of this policy of alien exclusion, evidently with us to stay for an indefinite period? The question is not one that admits of a categorical answer, particularly in detail. It is clear, however, that it can not fail to make permanent high money wages, shorter hours of work and the like, all of which tend very definitely to hold us on a basis of inflation and thus to hurt the volume of business, particularly in foreign trade."

More definite immigration statistics are furnished by the Industrial Conference Board, of Now York City. These show a net reduction of 08 per cent. in the number of immigrants admitted, as compared with admissions during the previous fiscal year. Further interpreting the Conference Board's report, the New York Times remarks:

  "The total number of aliens who arrived during 1924-1925 was 294,314, which was reduced by 92,728 nationals returning to their own countries. During the preceding year 706,896 aliens arrived and only 76,789 left;
  "The quotas of several countries were unfilled, among them being Czecho-Slovakia, by 17 per cent.; Germany, by 11 per cent.; Great Britain, by 12% per cent.; Irish Free State, by 5 per cent.; Italy, by 10 per cent., and Sweden, by 6 per cent.
  "Further, the number of nationals who departed for their native lands offset in several instances the number of immigrants, notably in the case of Italy. Only 6,203 Italians arrived here during the year; during the same period 27,151 Italians returned to Italy. Other countries to which emigration from the United States exceeded immigration were Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Jugo-Slavia, China, Japan, Portugal and Roumania.
  "The report shows the countries from which immigrants were exceeded by nationals leaving the United States as follows:

                        Immigrants     Aliens         Net
                        Arrived         Departed     Emigration
Bulgaria... ............ 140            208            68
Greece.................. 826            6,574        5,748
Hungary................ 616            875            259
Italy..................... 6,203        27,151        20,948
Lithuania............... 472            511            39
Portugal................ 619            3,600          2,981
Roumania............... 1,163         1,433         270
Spain. .................. 275            3,982         3,707
Jugo-Slavia. .......... 724            2,464         1,740
China ................... 1,937          3,412         1,475
Japan.................... 723            1,212         489
Australia................ 273            344             71
India. ................... 65             128             60
New Zealand.......... 143             159            16
Cuba. ................... 1,430         1,959         529
Other West Indies. .. 676            2,016         1,400

"The stream," notes the Indianapolis News, "has subsided into a mere trickle." To this Indiana paper:

"The contrast numerically with the past is impressive, but not more so than the change in the nature of the alien current. From 1896 until restriction was written into law the influx was mainly from eastern and southern Europe. The peoples native to that part of the world have many good qualities, but unlike the residents of the northern and western parts of Europe they were not so readily assimilated. In enacting immigration legislation this fact was taken into consideration.
  "The statistics indicate that what it was desired to achieve is, in most respects, being accomplished. We are both reducing the total in immigration and confining it for the most part to northern and western Europe strains. The result should show in an increased sense of national unity.
  "Some aspects of the immigration problem undoubtedly call for further consideration, but on the major points involved it would seem that Congress had acted in a manner deserving of approval."

"The Immigration Law, as a whole, is a good thing for this country," thinks the Philadelphia Inquirer, "for it has put an end to mass immigration to the United States." Furthermore, maintains the Providence News:

"The law is not working such hardship on some of the southern and eastern European countries as was foretold by the law's opponents. Krom this it would appear that either economic conditions in Europe are greatly improved or that fewer persons care to risk being rejected at Ellis Island or another immigration station. Obviously the law has worked to reduce the number of immigrants to a figure which should allow of the new-comers being easily assimilated. The problem of Americanizing the alien who seeks a home and fortune here is much easier than it used to be."

"One of America's most perplexing problems," agrees the Kansas City Star, "seems well along the road to solution with the effective operation of the new law." As this paper points out:

"The 2 per cent. Immigration Law was the result of a wide demand for a genuinely restrictive and selective policy for the protection of American ideals, citizenship and standards of living. Already Americanization workers are reporting that their task is being simplified, first, because they may deal with smaller numbers and, further, because they may work with more promising material. The industrial phase of the situation is hardly less interesting or important. There recently has been an ample supply of labor, and, in fact, an oversupply of unskilled workers, in America. Had immigration not been substantially checked in the last year, it is certain there would have been a serious condition of non-employment in this country.
  "There is no need of wholesale indictments in the matter, but the fact has been established beyond question that the percentage of certain types of alien in the prisons, public, and charitable institutions was abnormal, and an increasing burden on this country. With fewer and better immigrants, the situation soon may be different."

Source: Literary Digest - October 10, 1925