Remember the theory advanced by advocates of increased immigration that there are some jobs Americans just won’t take. Well, according to a new report, that apparently would be all net jobs created since 2000.
Simply put, a recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies states, since 2000 all of the net gain in the number of working-age people – age 16 to 65 – holding a job has gone to immigrants. The report’s authors are Steven A. Camarota, the center’s director of research, and Karen Zeigler, a demographer at the center.
That number is remarkable, the authors wrote in their June report, given that native-born Americans accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the total working-age population.
“Though there has been some recovery from the Great Recession, there were still fewer working-age natives holding a job in the first quarter of 2014 than in 2000, while the number of immigrants with a job was 5.7 million above the 2000 level,” the authors wrote.
Even before the Great Recession, the authors found, immigrants were gaining a disproportionate share of jobs relative to their share of population growth. What’s more, they wrote, natives’ losses were somewhat greater during the recession and immigrants recovered more quickly from it.
Those numbers carry with them a significant implication, the authors asserted.
“With 58 million working-age natives not working, the Schumer-Rubio bill and similar House measures that would substantially increase the number of foreign workers allowed in the country seem out of touch with the realities of the U.S. labor market,” they wrote.
Camarota and Zeigler said they drew three conclusions from the data, which was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Current Population Survey.
First, they wrote, the long-term decline in native employment across all age and education levels indicate there is no general labor shortage, an argument they said advocates of immigration reform use to justify large increases in immigration.
Second, they wrote, the decline in work among the native-born over the last 14 years of high immigration is consistent with research showing that immigration reduces employment for natives. And, finally, trends since 2000 challenge the argument that immigration on balance increases job opportunities for natives.
“Over 17 million immigrants arrived in the country in the last 14 years, yet native employment has deteriorated significantly,” the authors stated.
A stunning report
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the report stunning.
“The findings in this report are shocking, and represent a dramatic indictment of immigration policy in Washington D.C.,” Sessions said. “This report also underscores the economic catastrophe that would have ensued had the Gang of Eight’s legislation, passed in the Senate one year ago today, been moved through the House and signed into law.”
Not only did the Gang of Eight plan provide amnesty to illegal workers and help entice a new wave of illegal immigration, Sessions said, but it surged the rate of new low-skilled immigration at a time of low wages and high unemployment.
“Such a proposal would have hollowed out the middle class,” he said.
While the total number of working-age immigrants holding a job, both legal and illegal, increased 5.7 million from the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2014, the number of working-age Americans holding a job during the same period fell from 114.8 million to 114.7 million.
Because the native-born population grew significantly, but the number working actually fell, there were approximately 17 million more working-age natives not working in the first quarter of 2014 than in 2000, the report’s authors observed.
In raw numbers, the number of working-age natives holding a job was 127,000 fewer in the first quarter of 2000 than in the same quarter of 2014, even though the number of working-age natives overall increased by more than 16.8 million. That 16.8 million represented 66 percent of the overall growth in the working-age population, the study stated.
The authors concede that not all of the 58 million working-age natives without a job want to work or even can work. What’s important, they say, is the trend over time, and so they looked at the deterioration of the rate of employment for working-age natives, which stood at only 66.4 percent during the first quarter of 2014.
“There is simply no question that the general decline in the employment rate of natives is both long-term and large,” they wrote. “If the employment rate of natives (16 to 65) in the first quarter of this year were what it had been in 2000 (73.7 percent), 12.5 million more natives would have been working. If the share working were what it had been in the first quarter of 2007 (71 percent), 7.9 million more natives would have a job today.”
What’s more, they assert, the trend is true no matter how one defines the working-age population. For example, they observe, if younger teens under the age of 18 are excluded, the number not holding a job was 15 million larger in the first quarter of 2014 than in the first quarter of 2000.
“The share holding a job declined from 75.7 percent in 2000 to 73.6 percent in 2007 and was just 69 percent in the first quarter of 2014, improving only slightly since the jobs recovery began in 2010,” the authors wrote.
What about the 25-54-year-old native population, which they said economists and demographers view as the core of the work force?
The answer is, it shows the same pattern of decline.
“Their employment rate declined from 82.4 percent in 2000 to 80.5 percent in 2007 and was 76.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014,” the authors wrote. “In contrast to natives, the share of immigrants in this age group working increased from 2000 to 2007, and did not decline as much as it did for natives during the great recession. No matter how the working-age is defined, there has been a very significant decline in work among the native-born in absolute terms and relative to immigrants.”
As for the much hyped labor shortage, the authors said employment growth over the past 14 years did not come close to matching natural population growth and the number of immigrants allowed in the country – legally and illegally.
“As a result of immigration policy and natural increase, the total working-age population (immigrant and native) grew 9.4 percent from the economic peak in 2000 to the economic peak in 2007, while the number of working-age people actually employed increased only 6.2 percent,” they wrote. “Over the entire 14-year period from 2000 to 2014, the working-age population grew by 25.7 million (about 14 percent), while employment grew only about 4 percent. At a basic level, it is this gap between natural population growth and immigration-induced population growth, on the one hand, and employment growth on the other hand that created such a large increase in the number of working-age people, primarily natives, not working.”
While those numbers might describe what happened, they do not explain why it happened, the authors state – why such a disproportionate share of the gap was absorbed by natives, why all the employment growth went to immigrants.
To begin to find the answers to those questions requires tracking back before the Great Recession, the authors state, and, indeed, they found a deterioration for natives before the recession began in 2007.
“The number of natives holding a job increased just 2.9 percent from the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2007; in contrast the number of immigrants with jobs increased 28.7 percent,” the authors wrote. “The share of working-age natives holding a job was lower at the economic peak in the first quarter of 2007 than the prior peak in the first quarter of 2000.”
And while natives once had a higher employment rate than immigrants, by 2007 the rate for natives had fallen while it had increased for immigrants. Immigrants also recovered better from the recession than natives did.
Some have said that an aging immigrant population helps explain the numbers, but the authors did not find that to be the case.
“Natives accounted for 51 percent of the growth in the total population 30 to 65, but only 9 percent of the net increase of employment,” they wrote. “The employment rate for natives ages 30 to 65 fell from 2000 to 2007, while it rose slightly for immigrants in this age group. Over the period 2000 to 2014, the employment rate for natives ages 30 to 65 fell 5.5 percentage points, while it declined only 1.4 percentage points for immigrants.”
The truth is, the authors continued, there are many reasons why immigrants did better than natives in the labor market from 2000 to 2007, and in the recovery.
“Perhaps some employers are prejudiced against native-born workers, particularly U.S.-born minorities,” the authors speculated. “Certainly the employment of native-born minorities has declined more profoundly than for native-born whites or for immigrants.”
In addition, they asserted, there are ways in which the immigration system makes immigrant workers more attractive than natives.
“For example, the Summer Work Travel Program (part of the J-1 visa program) allows employers to hire temporary workers without having to make the Social Security and Medicare payments that employers would be required to make on behalf of native-born workers,” they wrote. “Another example of the way the immigration system makes foreign workers more attractive to employers is that those who enter under the H1-B visa program cannot change companies easily, making them more captive to their employers.”
Immigrants may also be more willing to work off the books, for lower pay, or endure worse working conditions than natives, causing employers to prefer them as workers, the authors wrote.
The authors also highlighted another potential factor in immigrant gains – their social networks may tend to shut natives out of jobs because employers come to rely on those networks to fill vacant positions.
“For example, once an employer has a few immigrant workers, he may become less likely to advertise jobs widely, preferring instead to use the informal network of his immigrant workers’ friends and families to fill positions,” they wrote. “Immigrants may also be more mobile. By coming to this country, immigrants almost always see substantial improvement in their standard of living, no matter where in the United States they settle. This may make them more willing to move wherever there is job growth in the United States. Natives, on the other hand, may need significant wage incentives to move, which, because of the availability of immigrant labor, businesses are unwilling to offer.”
The bottom line is, the authors contended, the data shows that immigration reduces job opportunities for natives, and puts natives in direct competition with immigrants for jobs, even those jobs classically defined as those Americans “won’t do.”
“As we have seen .... immigrants made gains across the labor market,” the researchers wrote. “Looking at broad occupations ... makes clear that there are tens of millions of natives employed in the occupational categories where immigrants have found jobs in the last 14 years. Thus, part of the reason immigration is likely to adversely impact the employment of some natives is that, contrary to the assertion of some, immigrants often do the same jobs.”
Indeed, the authors reiterated from earlier research, for all 472 civilian detailed occupations as defined by the Department of Commerce, only six were majority immigrant (legal and illegal).
“These six occupations account for 1 percent of the total U.S. workforce,” they wrote. “Many jobs often thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant are in fact majority native-born. For example, 51 percent of maids and housekeepers are U.S.-born, as are 63 percent of butchers and meat processors. It is also the case that 64 percent of grounds maintenance workers are U.S.-born, as are 66 percent of construction laborers and 73 percent of janitors.”
It is simply not the case that there are jobs that Americans do not do, the authors concluded.
In Sessions view, the report confirmed that a long, sustained period of high immigration, combined with increased automation and the offshoring of jobs, has produced a loose, low-wage labor market.
“In spite of this, the president continues to champion legislation that would place further substantial downward pressure on wages,” Sessions said.
Already each year, the senator said, the U.S. grants permanent legal admission to 1 million immigrants who can apply for citizenship, along with approximately 700,000 guest workers, 200,000 relatives of guest workers, and 500,000 students. The proposed Senate bill would double the rate of future immigration and guest worker admissions, he said.
Not discussed enough, Sessions said, is the financial harm those employer-centric proposals inflict on recent immigrants who are trying to better their economic condition.
“President Obama and congressional Democrats instead remain focused on the demands of activist CEOs who want new labor at the lowest price,” he said. “Republicans must sever themselves from these demands and present themselves to the American public as the one party focused on everyday working people. The sensible, conservative, fair thing to do after 40 years of record immigration is to slow down a bit, allow assimilation to occur, allow wages to rise, and to help workers of all backgrounds rise together into the middle class.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org