Who Got Jobs During the Obama Presidency?

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2012

A new analysis of government data shows that two-thirds of the net increase in employment since President Obama took office has gone to immigrant workers, primarily legal immigrants. Although the level of new immigration overall has fallen, legal immigration remains very high. While economists debate the extent to which immigrants displace natives, the new data make clear that there is no general labor shortage in the United States. This analysis calls into question the wisdom of bringing in more than a million new legal immigrants each year at a time when the employment situation remains bleak.

Among the findings of this analysis:

  • Since President Obama took office, 67 percent of employment growth has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal).
  • There were 1.94 million more immigrants (legal and illegal) working in the third quarter of 2012 than at the start of 2009, when the president took office. This compares to a 938,000 increase for natives over the same time period.
  • Most of the immigrant growth in employment was the result of new immigration, rather than immigrants already in the country taking jobs. Some 1.6 million new immigrant workers arrived from abroad since the start of 2009—we estimate 70 to 90 percent entered legally.
  • Immigrants made employment gains across the labor market. In occupations where immigrant gains were the largest, there were 2.2 million unemployed natives.
  • A large share of employment growth was going to immigrants well before President Obama took office. However, he has taken steps to increase the level of job competition from foreign-born workers:
    • He offered work authorization to an estimated two million illegal immigrants who arrived in the country before age 16—nearly 200,000 of whom have applied so far.
    • When auditing employers who hire illegal workers, the administration has not detained the illegal workers as a matter of policy, allowing them to take new jobs.
    • The administration called on the Supreme Court in 2010 to strike down Arizona’s law requiring employers to verify the legal status of new workers.
  • Natives have done better in the labor market recently. From the third quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2012, two-thirds of employment growth went to native-born workers.
  • Despite recent improvements, in the third quarter of 2012, there were a huge number of working-age (18 to 65) native-born Americans not employed:
    • 7.6 million with less than a high school education (18 to 65);
    • 18.1 million with only a high school education (18 to 65);
    • 15.8 million with some college (18 to 65); and
    • 9.2 million college graduates (18 to 65).
  • Some people who are not working do not wish to work. However, the broad measure of unemployment, which includes those who have given up looking for a job, shows a dismal picture for adult natives (18+) in the third quarter of 2012:
    • 30.8 percent for high school dropouts;
    • 18.1 percent for those only a high school education;
    • 13.8 percent for those with some college; and
    • 8 percent for all college graduates and 13 percent for college graduates under age 30.
  • While significantly more immigrants are presently working, their unemployment rate remains high and the share of working-age adults (18-65) holding a job has only slightly improved since President Obama took office.

[Editor’s Note: The full report is available at the original article link below.]

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