A Jobless Recovery?

Steven Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, October 2004

The recovery from the recession of 2001 has been described as “jobless.” In fact, an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data shows that between March of 2000 and March of 2004, the number of adults working actually increased, but all of the net change went to immigrant workers. The number of adult immigrants (18 years of age and older) holding a job increased by over two million between 2000 and 2004, while the number of adult natives holding a job is nearly half a million fewer. This Backgrounder also finds that the number of adult natives who are unemployed or who have withdrawn from the labor force is dramatically higher in 2004 than it was in 2000. These findings raise the possibility that immigration has adversely affected the job prospects of native-born Americans.

Among our findings:

  • Between March of 2000 and 2004, the number of unemployed adult natives increased by 2.3 million, while the number of employed adult immigrants increased by 2.3 million.
  • Half of the 2.3 million increase in immigrant employment since 2000 is estimated to be from illegal immigration.
  • In addition to a growth in unemployment, the number of working age (18 to 64) natives who left the labor force entirely has increased by four million since 2000.
  • Even over the last year the same general pattern holds. Of the 900,000 net increase in jobs between March 2003 and 2004, two-thirds went to immigrant workers, even though they account for only 15 percent of all adult workers.
  • In just the last year, 1.2 million working-age natives left the labor force, and say that they are not even trying to find a job.
  • Immigrant job gains have occurred throughout the labor market, with more than two-thirds of their employment gains among workers who have at least a high school degree.
  • There is little evidence that immigrants take only jobs Americans don’t want. Even those occupations with the highest concentrations of new immigrants still employ millions of native-born workers.
  • The decline in native employment was most pronounced in states where immigrants increased their share of workers the most.
  • Occupations with the largest immigrant influx tended to have the highest unemployment rates among natives.
  • The states with the largest increase in the number of immigrants holding jobs were Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia, California, Arizona, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
  • Of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, the biggest increases in immigrant employment were in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Houston, New York, and Seattle.
  • Recent immigration has had no significant impact on the nation’s age structure. If the 6.1 million immigrants (in and out of the labor force) who arrived after 2000 had not come, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36 years.

It would be an oversimplification to assume that each job taken by an immigrant is a job lost by a native. What is clear is that the current economic downturn has been accompanied by record levels of immigration. Given the labor market difficulty of many natives, the dramatic increase in the number of immigrants holding jobs certainly calls into question the wisdom of proposals by both presidential candidates to increase immigration levels further. While the findings of this study may seem stark, they are consistent with other research on this subject.

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