Immigration and the American Worker
Our high immigration rate has been a significant contributor to unemployment and decreasing employment rates, and the effect predates the recent recession. Let me cite a few numbers.
A report by Camarota and Zeigler (July, 2013) notes that from 2000 to 2013 the working-age, native-born population of the U.S increased by 16.4 million, yet the number employed fell by 1.3 million. During that period the number of working-age immigrants increased by 8.8 million and the number working rose by 5.3 million. Those numbers, and many of those that follow, are ultimately from the Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even with the current rate of immigration, the business community is replacing Americans with a cheaper immigrant workforce. The temptation seems irresistible as long as a huge influx of immigrants is maintained. And this is not primarily a product of the recent recession. The employment rate for native-born working-age adults fell from 74% in 2000 to 71% in 2007 (the peak of the last economic expansion), to 66% in 2013. Some additional links (Camarota, 2011; Camarota and Zeigler, 20012; Kochhar et al., 2010; Camarota, 2004) provide more temporal detail on employment of immigrants and natives and the relationship with the two recessions in the last 13 years.
Although the trend is long-term, the impact of immigration on the current lingering high rate of unemployment is dramatic. Camarota and Zeigler (2012) reported that from the start of 2009 to the 3rd quarter of 2012, the number of immigrants working increased by 1.9 million, while the number of native-born Americans working increased by only 0.9 million. Of the newly employed immigrants, 1.6 million arrived from abroad since the start of 2009 – 70 to 90% of them legally. Almost all the newly hired immigrants are in occupations where the vast majority of workers are native-born and where unemployment rates remain high (Camarota and Zeigler, 2012).
These data don’t provide the detail to analyze the microeconomics of how American businesses replace non-immigrant workers with immigrants, but the recent past provides some clues. Starting in the 1970s, the meat packing industry replaced well-paid, often union workforces, with immigrant workers, first legal immigrants and more recently illegal immigrants, at much lower wages (Beck, 1996). In 1980, meatpacking plants paid average wages of $22.31/hr. (inflation-adjusted 2007 dollars). In 2007, average wages in the industry had fallen to $11.81, approximately half of what they had once been (Chicago Tribune 12/5/08). Companies paying poverty level wages compete very successfully with other companies, and eventually all the workers in an industry may be reduced to poverty, as happened in the meat packing industry. I suspect the same process is going on with the companies that employ people in the building trades, custodial services, and other occupations. Even in large, unionized firms we are seeing an increasing number of two-tier wage and benefit programs that sometimes pay new workers poverty-level wages of only half what older workers are making. Our immigration policy is allowing businesses to increase profits and achieve competitive advantages over other American businesses by almost totally bypassing unemployed native-born Americans in favor of cheap, more pliable immigrants. This pathological process represents an effective prejudice against Americans, and particularly minority Americans.
George Borjas et al., (2006) found that from 1960 to 2000, the employment rate for non-immigrant black men fell from 90% to 76%, and for those with less than a high school diploma, from 89% to 56%. We know the social tragedy that has resulted. Black people were not the only victims. For non-immigrant white men without a high school diploma employment dropped from 94% to 76%. Borjas (an economics professor at Harvard) estimates that 20 to 40% of the increase in unemployment among these non-immigrant Americans results from immigration, with the highest percentages pertaining to less-educated black men.
Senate Immigration Bill
In this light, it is worth examining the impact of S. 744, the immigration bill that passed the Senate this year, much of which is favored by House Members as well. As Neil Munro (Munro, 5/6/2013) reports, NumbersUSA, which opposed the bill, calculated that it would award 33.5 million green cards in its first 10 years, Sen. Jeff Sessions, who also opposed the bill, estimated the number to be 32.7 million, while the Center for American Progress, which favored the bill, estimated 32.5 million. Those numbers of green cards are all more than 1/5 of the total U.S. workforce. Eventual green cards for the 11 million undocumented immigrants (included in those numbers) would not significantly increase the labor force because most of those to be amnestied are already working. However, NumbersUSA (Beck, 4/29/2013, details in NumbersUSA 2013) points out that in the first 10 years the legal immigration rate (not including the amnesty) would increase from an average of 1.1 million/yr. to 2.2 million/yr. Also, In 2012 there were 691,000 temporary work permits issued (Vaughan, 2013). The Senate bill would nearly double that number by adding another 620,000/yr. (Center For Immigration Studies, 2013). Jeff Sessions (Munro, 5/6/2013) adds the new temporary workers and estimates a total of 57 million legal immigrants, amnestied undocumented immigrants, and temporary workers, over a decade. That is more than 1/3 of the total U.S. workforce. The CBO report also estimates some of the numbers. The numbers cited above would swell the profits of business, but they would be disastrous for American workers, who would suffer reduced wages and massive unemployment. The bill was sold as a bipartisan compromise. However, it is bipartisan only in the sense that it was written to satisfy the special interests that bribe and threaten both parties. It was never intended to balance the concerns of the tens of millions of ordinary Democrats and Republicans, (better people than most members of Congress), whose principal responsibility is supporting themselves and their families.
Camarota, Steven A. and Zeigler, Karen, July 2013. Immigrant Gains and Native Losses In the Job Market, 2000 to 2013. Center for Immigration Studies. http://cis.org/print/immigrant-gains-native-losses-in-the-job-market-2000-to-2013
Camarota, Steven A., 2011. Immigrant Gains and Native Losses in the U.S. Job Market, 2000 to 2010. Center of Immigration Studies. http://www.cis.org/node/2649
Camarota, Steven A. and Zeigler, Karen, 2012. Who Got Jobs During the Obama Presidency? Native and Immigrant Employment Growth, 2009 to 2012. Center for Immigration Studies. http://cis.org/who-got-jobs-during-obama-presidency
Kochhar, R., Espinoza, C.S. and Hinze-Pifer, R. 2010. After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gain Jobs; Native Born Lose Jobs. Pew Hispanic Center. http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/129.pdf
Camarota, Steven A., 2004. A Jobless Recover? Immigrant Gains and Native Losses. Center for Immigration Studies http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/back1104.html
Beck, R., 1996. The Case Against Immigration: The moral, economic, social, and environmental reasons for reducing U.S. immigration back to traditional levels, chap. 6. W.W. Norton and Co., New York. http://www.numbersusa.com/content/files/pdf/TheCaseAgainstImmigration-RoyBeck.pdf
Chicago Tribune, 12/5/08. Henry C. Jackson. Raids could force meatpackers to raise worker pay http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/dec/05/news/chi-ap-ia-slaughterhouseeco
Munro, Neil, 5/6/2013. Immigration rivals agree; Senate bill will legalize more than 30 million migrants. The Daily Caller. http://dailycaller.com/2013/05/06/immigration-rivals-agree-senate-bill-will-legalize-more-than-30-million-migrants/?print=1
Beck, Roy, 4/29/2013. Senate amnesty bill like adding Top 20 U.S. cities full of foreign workers in first decade – 33 million. NumbersUSA.com https://www.numbersusa.com/content/nusablog/beckr/april-29-2013/senate-amnesty-bill-adding-top-20-us-cities-full-foreign-workers-first-
NumbersUSA, 2013. Estimated Future Permanent Legal Immigration Under S. 744 – FY 2015-2024. NumbersUSA.com https://www.numbersusa.com/content/files/10-Year_LPR_Numbers.pdf
Vaughan, Jessica, 2013. Nearly 700,000 Guestworker Visas Issued in 2012. Center For Immigration Studies. http://www.cis.org/vaughan/700000-guestworker-visas-issued-2012
Center For Immigration Studies, 2013. Senate Bill Doubles Annual Flow of Guest Workers. http://cis.org/gang-of-eight-bill-doubles-temporary-worker-flow?utm_source=E-mail+Updates&utm_campaign=dfda12f419-6_5_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7dc4c5d977-dfda12f419-44167777