New Census Bureau data collected in March of this year show that 13.1 million immigrants (legal and illegal) arrived in the previous 10 years, even though there was a net decline of 1 million jobs during the decade. In contrast, during the 1990s job growth was 21 million, and 12.1 million new immigrants arrived. Despite fundamentally different economic conditions, the level of immigration was similar for both ten-year periods.
The report, “Immigration and Economic Stagnation: An Examination of Trends 2000 to 2010,” is online at http://cis.org/highest-decade. Among the findings:
* The March 2010 data show that 13.1 million immigrants (legal and illegal) have arrived in the United States since January 2000. This is the case despite two significant recessions during the decade and a net loss of one million jobs.
* Data collected in March 2000 showed one million fewer immigrants arrived from January 1990 to March 2000 (12.1 million), while 21 million jobs were created during the decade.
* In 2008 and 2009, 2.4 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) settled in the United States, even though 8.2 million jobs were lost over the same period.
* The new data indicate that, without a change in U.S. immigration policy, the level of new immigration can remain high even in the face of massive job losses.
* Immigration is a complex process; it is not simply a function of U.S. labor market conditions. Factors such as the desire to be with relatives or to access public services in the United States also significantly impact migration.
* Although new immigration remains high, the 2.4 million new arrivals represent a decline from earlier in this decade. In the two years prior to 2006, for example, there were 2.9 million arrivals, according to Census Bureau data.
* There was no significant change in legal immigration during the past decade. Although the number of jobs declined in the decade just completed, 10.3 million green cards were issued from 2000 to 2009, more than in any decade in American history.
* Illegal immigrants also continue to arrive, though prior research indicates that the number coming dropped significantly at the end of the decade.
* Among the states with the largest proportional increase in their immigrant populations over the last decade are Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Alaska, Mississippi, Arkansas, Washington, North Carolina, Maryland, and Nebraska.
Discussion: Some have argued that immigration levels are simply a function of labor market conditions in the United States. But the new Census Bureau data remind us that immigration is a complex process driven by many factors in addition to the economy. In 2008 and 2009 net job losses numbered over 8 million, and the immigrant unemployment rate doubled. Yet more than two million new legal and illegal immigrants settled in the United States in those two years. This does not mean the economy is irrelevant to immigration levels. Rather it means that many factors in addition to the economy impact the flow of new immigrants into the country. Such factors as the desire to be with relatives, political freedom, lower levels of official corruption, and the generosity of American taxpayer-funded public services are all among the reasons people come to the United States. These things do not change during a recession or even during a prolonged period of relatively weak economic growth, like the decade just completed.
Immigration has a momentum of its own. In 2000 there were already more than 30 million immigrants (legal and illegal) living in the country. This enormous population means there are social networks of friends and family who provide information about conditions in the United States to those back home. This in turn makes those in the home country more aware of opportunities in the United States and more likely to come. New immigrants often live with established immigrants who can help the new arrivals. Thus as the immigrant population grows, it creates pressure and opportunities for even more immigration.
Data Source: Unlike in past decennial censuses, the 2010 census, which will be released shortly, has no immigration questions. Thus it will provide no information about the nation’s immigrant population. The Census Bureau data analyzed in this report are from the March Current Population Survey, also referred to as the Annual Social and Economic Supplement. The new data provide a first look at immigration for the decade just completed. In this report, we use the terms “immigrant” to mean all persons living in this country who were not U.S. citizens at birth. The Census Bureau often refers to these individuals as “foreign born.” The immigrant or foreign-born includes those in the country legally and illegally. Prior research indicates that some 90 percent of illegal immigrants are included in the Current Population Survey.
The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.
Contact: Steven Camarota
(202) 466-8185, [email protected]
[“Immigration and Economic Stagnation: An Examination of Trends 2000 to 2010,” by Steven A. Camarota, is available here.]