The uncomfortable reality, as Andrew Sum sees it, is that there’s a direct link between the steep national decline in teen employment rates and the growing practice of businesses hiring illegal immigrants and paying them off the books.
Sum is the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University and lead author of a widely cited nationwide study projecting teen employment will continue to fall, with a drop to 36.7 percent this summer from 45 percent in 2000. That puts it at or near its lowest level since the data series began in 1948, despite a strengthening economy and improving overall labor market.
“The immigrant increase in employment is overwhelming. Every net new job created is taken by an immigrant. I know that’s shocking, but that’s the truth,” Sum said offering his sober assessment. “It happened in Massachusetts and New York in the 1990s, and now its happening in the country as a whole.”
But what has Sum particularly intrigued and concerned is the undeniable evidence that more American businesses are opting to expand profits and remain competitive by hiring low-cost undocumented workers instead of paying taxes, workers’ compensation and even rudimentary health benefits for legal workers. “I haven’t seen anything like this in 25 years,” Sum said.
Businesses hired 3.7 million immigrant workers during the past five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current population survey, Sum said, noting research shows 50 percent to 60 percent arrived illegally. But in the same period, other BLS stats indicate 3.1 million people went on the books.
The 600,000 difference reflects a loss in employment of native-born workers, mostly among people younger than 30, Sum said, adding that the 55-and-older group is the only segment posting job gains.