National Data | Recent Immigrants Dominate The Job Market Even More Than We Thought

Last Friday's jobs report was shockingly weak —only 32,000 jobs were created in July, 200,000 jobs below the consensus forecast. [Rough week for economy, August 7, 2004, SF Chronicle]

Not for the first time, Big Media didn't mention the immigration dimension.

Friday's report shows, for example, that the percentage growth in Hispanic (mostly immigrant) male employment in July was four times that of black males and 50 percent above that of white males, both mainly native-born.

Readers of this column know that a disproportionate share of jobs created in recent months have gone to immigrants. I have reported on this phenomenon repeatedly, noting that immigrants and Hispanics are getting most new jobs, and that Hispanics are gaining employment share at the expense of everyone else.

Alas, my conclusions may have been too conservative. A startling new study finds that all the jobs created over the past few years—not just most of them—went to   recently arrived immigrants.

These findings forced even the New York Times to acknowledge, belatedly, that something important might be happening. [See Joe Guzzardi on Bob Herbert's op-ed]

The study, from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, [Foreign Immigration and the Labor Force of  the U.S.," Full report PDF]

analyzes changes in the Labor Department's monthly survey of households between the end of 2000 and the first four months of 2004. Over that period:

  • U.S. employment rose by 755,000 in total.

 

  • 2.1 million new (i.e. post-2000) immigrants got jobs

 

  • 958,000 fewer native born were working

 

  • 352,000 fewer established immigrants were working

The household survey captures increases in contract labor, farm labor, and "off-the-books" labor, including illegal immigrants.

The shifts in labor force nativity are especially troubling when placed in historical perspective.

During the decade of the 1990s, 47 percent of the nation's civilian labor force growth was due to immigration. This represented the largest influx of foreign workers ever to enter the U.S. in a given decade—substantially exceeding the number who came here during the Great Wave of 1890 to 1910.

Just over the past four years, however, a record 60 percent of labor force growth was due to immigration. The foreign-born share of the labor force grew from 13 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in early 2004. [See Table.]

It thus took about 225 years of nationhood for the foreign-born share of our labor force to reach 13 percent—and less than four additional years to reach 15 percent.

Extrapolated, here's what the foreign-born share of the U.S. labor force will grow to if the experience of the past few years is allowed to persist:

  • 18.6 percent foreign-born in 2010

 

  • 32 percent foreign-born in 2025

 

  • 54 percent foreign-born in 2040

 

  • 78 percent foreign-born in 2050

Are such foreign-born shares likely? Probably not. Apart from anything else, mass immigration will depress the real incomes of native and foreign-workers alike, eventually making immigration to the U.S. a losing proposition.

Economic reality will do what U.S. policy refuses to.

[Number fans click here for tables.]

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.