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N.C. Economy Depends On Illegal Workers, Says UNC Study

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Illegal workers are paid under the table, working in construction, in hotels, and cleaning homes across the country. They hold about 12 million jobs in the United States -- comprising nearly 8 percent of the workforce. Researchers estimate that the country loses $35 billion a year in income tax collections.

In North Carolina, the lost taxes are only half of the story. While there is evidence to suggest illegal workers are now taking desirable jobs from the middle-class workforce, and, at times, bringing wages down across the board, experts say that without these workers, North Carolina's economy would be in trouble.

Every morning, Perez waits at a Raleigh street corner, hoping to find work. Paid in cash at a construction site on most afternoons, the day laborer makes his living primarily outside the state's tax structure.

"Most people stay for one day, two days -- don't worry about pay taxes. I don't say we worry (about taxes) but the guys we working for (do)."

Perez is a part of an exploding underground workforce in North Carolina, composed primarily of illegal immigrants trying to scrape together a slice of American life.

"If the Hispanics were put on a flatbed trucks and sent to Mexico, it would be a serious blow to the state of North Carolina," said UNC professor Dr. John Kasarda.

Kasarda acknowledges workers like Perez cost the average taxpayers millions of dollars every year. But he argues that without them, the economy would be worse off.

"A lot of business would not get done," he said.

Kasarda said money paid under the table is eventually filtered back into the economy, creating more than 90,000 jobs in the last two years alone.

Much of Kasarda's findings are documented in a recent study that he and Dr. James Johnson completed for the Kenan Institute at UNC. The study suggests that without undocumented workers, industries like farm work and construction would have serious negative repercussions.


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