National Data | March Jobs: Natives Lose, Immigrants Gain in a Dismal Month

A funny thing happened on the way to recovery. The economy added 120,000 jobs in March, well below the consensus forecast and only half the job creation recorded in February. Not since November has monthly job growth been below the 200,000 level.

Unreported as usual: immigrant displacement of native-born Americans also increased.

Economists were blindsided by the overall numbers. For weeks, the economic tea leaves had apparently augured well: retail sales were strong, first time unemployment claims were down, and the Federal Reserve reported that another round of drastic monetary stimulus, a la Q1 and Q2, was neither needed nor desirable.

When in doubt, blame the weather. And the unusually warm winter may indeed have confounded the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustment factors, inflating the winter job figures and raising expectations beyond reality.

But even if the reported 200,000+ jobs per month were real, it would be insufficient to absorb the growth in the labor force. We estimate that immigration policy alone brings about 100,000 new workers into the U.S. each month. This includes green cards issued for working age arrivals plus visas issued for “temporary” workers, who often attain permanent resident status.

So it is particularly distressing to note that the “other” employment survey, of Households rather than businesses, reported a 31,000 job decline in March.

Our analysis of seasonally unadjusted household employment data finds a profound gap between the native-born and immigrant labor experience.

In March:

  • Total employment fell 31,000, or 0.02%. (This is the seasonally adjusted household employment growth figure reported by BLS.)
  • Foreign-born employment rose by 194,000, or by 0.86%. (This and the following figure are estimated on the assumption that seasonal adjustments in a given month are the same for both native and immigrant labor.)
  • Native-born employment declined by 225,000, or by 0.19%

It was only in January 2010, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] began publishing monthly job figures for immigrant and native-born workers. And unfortunately these data are not seasonally adjusted, making month to month trends difficult to interpret. BLS resolves the dilemma by comparing the current month with the same month of the prior year.

As a result, January 2009—the month Barack Obama was inaugurated—is also the first month of readily available data on native-born and immigrant employment. Coincidence or not, that means we can piece together the monthly points to track the long-term impact of Mr. Obama’s policies on native-born and immigrant employment.

We do that in our New American Worker Displacement Index (NVDAWDI).April VDAWDI


Native employment growth is traced in black, immigrant employment growth is in pink, and the ratio of immigrant to native job growth—NVAWDI—is in yellow.

To calculate NVDAWDI we set native-born and immigrant employment in January 2009 at 100 each.

  • From that January to this March, immigrant employment rose by 5.7%—pushing the immigrant employment index (pink line) up to 105.7.
  • Over the same period native born employment declined by 1.2%, reducing the native employment index to 98.8.

We then take the ratio of immigrant to native-born employment growth indexes and multiply by 100.

Bottom line: NVAWDI in March 2012 was at 107.0—or 100 times 105.7 divided by 98.8. In March, our displacement index reached its second-highest point since Obama took office, exceed only by January’s 108.4.

Resurgent American worker displacement is also confirmed by comparing the seasonally unadjusted figures for March 2011 with those of March 2012:

Over the past 12 months:

  • Immigrants gained 1,057,000 jobs, a 4.9% increase; native-born workers gained 1,394,000 positions, a 1.2% increase. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • The foreign-born working age population increased by 4.6%; the comparable native population increased by 1.0%. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • The unemployment rate for immigrants fell by 0.9 percentage points; the rate for natives fell by 0.8 percentage points. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • The immigrant labor force (people working or looking for work) increased by 3.8%; the native-born labor force increased by 0.3%. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS

Labor force participation rates fell for both immigrants and natives last month. This helped to reduce the official unemployment rate to 8.2% from 8.3%.

Obama’s people will focus on the unemployment rate. Establishment Conservatives will focus on the labor force participation rate.

Neither will mention immigration—the diminishing share of native-born Americans among those lucky enough to find work.

That’s what is for.

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