National Data | Tendentious Junk From Mr. Jencks
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September 25, 2007, 05:00 AM
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Christopher Jencks is a highly respected social scientist, a Harvard professor no less. "Balanced" and "intellectually flexible" are adjectives used to describe his research on controversial issues such as income inequality, welfare, and immigration. In 2001 he reviewed George Borjas` Heaven`s Door for The New York Review of Books. Jencks called it "by far the best introduction I have seen to the economics of immigration," adding cheekily "(He is also my colleague at Harvard, so skeptics should feel free to discount my enthusiasm for his book.)" [Who Should Get In?, · November 29 and · December 20, , 2001 (Part 1, Part 2)]

But Pat Buchanan is another matter. State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, reviewed by Jencks in the latest NYRB, elicits a decidedly pro-immigration bias from the normally dispassionate academic.

Christopher Jencks, 2007: "Those who oppose enforcing laws against hiring illegal immigrants often argue that the American economy needs these workers, because they fill jobs Americans do not want. One problem with this argument is that in many parts of the United States native-born workers still do the jobs—on farms or in restaurants, for example—that immigrants do in states like California, Texas, Florida, and New York. Furthermore, while some industries in areas with a lot of immigrants do rely heavily on their labor, what most employers seem to want is an ample supply of foreign-born workers, not illegal immigrants per se." The Immigration Charade - The New York Review of Books, September 27, 2007 Come on, Christopher. Your esteemed colleague Borjas has said—in Heaven`s Door and elsewhere - that the impact of immigration on native workers can be perceived only at the national level. Local economies adjust.

At one time natives performed most of the menial jobs currently done by immigrants in California, New York, and the other high immigration states. Those natives, many of them high school dropouts, are currently either unemployed, working in other occupations, or are doing the same work—at lower wages—in other parts of the country.

This should not be news to you. Indeed, you aptly described the displacement of native Californians in your 2001 book review:

Christopher Jencks, 2001 "From a conventional economic viewpoint, California`s shift to immigrant labor was a success. Employers made money, professional and managerial workers got to live comfortably in a spectacular environment, and eight million immigrants were better off than they would have been in Latin America or Asia.

But this is the winners` version of history. Many less-skilled California natives would tell a darker story, in which their economic situation deteriorated and either they or their children eventually had to move elsewhere. If California had been a sovereign nation, its voters would almost certainly have endorsed a ballot initiative sharply reducing immigration. Because the state`s immigration policy was set in Washington, the losers had no recourse."

Christopher Jencks, 2007: "While the future of the Southwest is an open question, Buchanan has worries about the present that seem harder to justify. He claims, for example, that illegal immigrants cause far more than their share of crime in the United States. As evidence he reports that 30 percent of federal prison inmates are aliens (noncitizens), compared to only 12 percent of the general population. That comparison sounds alarming, but both figures are deceptive. To begin with, state prisons have seven times as many inmates as federal prisons, and noncitizens are less than 5 percent of the state prison population. If we pool federal and state prisoners, only 6 to 7 percent of them are noncitizens.

Nor do aliens make up 12 percent of the relevant comparison group. Buchanan`s 12 percent includes immigrants who have become citizens, whereas prison counts include only those who are not citizens. His 12 percent figure also includes children and the elderly, who are hardly ever imprisoned. If we focus on eighteen-to-fifty-four-year-olds, 10.7 percent of them are noncitizens. Since only 6 to 7 percent of federal and state prisoners are noncitizens, prison statistics would, if taken at face value, suggest that noncitizens are considerably more law-abiding than citizens of the same age."

VDARE.COM: Am I missing something? By noting (correctly) that Pat Buchanan`s 12 percent figure includes naturalized citizens, Jencks makes Buchanan`s case even stronger.

Buchanan compared the share of Federal inmates who are non-citizens (30 percent) with the foreign-born share of the U.S. population (12 percent.). But only 60 percent of the foreign-born are non-citizens; the remaining 40 percent are naturalized citizens. Pat should have juxtaposed the 30 percent with the 7.2 percent (60 percent of 12 percent) non-citizen share of the population.

Bottom line: the propensity of non-citizens to end up in federal prison is about two-thirds greater than Pat`s factoid implies it is.

Jencks is on firmer ground in his remarks about state prisons: only 4.6 percent of their prisoners are non-citizens. But neither he nor Pat Buchanan took much notice of local jails, which despite having smaller inmate populations hold about twice as many non-citizens as state prisons. (See the GAO report commissioned by Congressman John N. Hostetler: PDF ) I estimate that on an average day 200,000 non-citizens were incarcerated in the U.S. in 2003. That represents about 10 percent of that year`s total (federal, state, and local) prison population. Thus non-citizens are 40 percent more likely to be incarcerated than their population share would suggest.

But beware: Police in sanctuary cities do not ask arrestees their citizenship status. As a result, many criminal aliens are not counted as such in official prison statistics.

Christopher Jencks 2007: "Recent research also suggests that more assimilation has been taking place than Buchanan may realize…. Children of unskilled immigrants also move up the economic ladder at about the same rate as children of unskilled native-born workers, closing roughly half the gap between their parents and the average American."

VDARE.COM: If education is the best measure of one`s ability to move up the "economic ladder," the signs are not good. Consider the data presented in a recent study of Mexican immigrants by Harvard economists George Borjas and Lawrence Katz .

They calculate the percentage of adult male workers with less than 12 years of education, as follows:



1940: 67.3 percent

2000: 8.7 percent


Mexican immigrants:

1940: 94.6 percent

2000: 63.0 percent


Non-Mexican immigrants:

1940: 84.4 percent

2000: 17.0 percent

Between 1940 and 2000 dropout rates for native-born male workers fell by almost 60 percentage points, and those of non-Mexican immigrants fell by nearly the same amount. By contrast, the share of Mexican-born males lacking HS degrees declined by only 30 percentage points.

"As a result of these trends," note Borjas and Katz, "the data indicate a remarkable fact: the population of male high school dropouts in the United States has become disproportionately Mexican-born. In 1940, 0.5 percent of all male high school dropouts were Mexican immigrants. Even as recently as 1980, only 4.1 percent of male high school dropouts were Mexican immigrants. By 2000, however, 26.2 percent of all male high school dropouts were Mexican born." [The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the United States, April 2005(PDF)]

Jencks may be one of those immigration enthusiasts who find hope in the "native born" dropout trend. After all, this group includes children of Mexican immigrants. Over time, the immigration enthusiasts claim, the English-speaking, U.S.-born descendents of today`s Mexican immigrants will blend seamlessly into the mainstream.

But this upbeat assertion turns out to be plain wrong. In 2000, U.S.-born males of Mexican descent still had significantly higher dropout rates (21 percent) than native born non-Mexicans (8.3 percent). The college graduation gap is even wider.

To quote George Borjas in his 1990 book Friends Or Strangers "Ethnicity matters. And it matters for a long, long time."

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