While jobs are always being created and lost, and the number of workers rises and falls with the economy, a new analysis of government data shows that all of the net gain in employment over the last 13 years has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal). From the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2013, the number of natives working actually fell by 1.3 million while the overall size of the working-age (16 to 65) native population increased by 16.4 million. Over the same time period, the number of immigrants working (legal and illegal) increased by 5.3 million. In addition to the decline in the number of natives working, there has been a broad decline in the percentage holding a job that began before the 2007 recession. This decline has impacted natives of almost every age, race, gender, and education level. The total number of working-age (16 to 65) natives not working — unemployed or out of the labor force entirely — was nearly 59 million in the first quarter of this year, a figure that has changed little in the last three years and is nearly 18 million larger than in 2000.
Aside from the legalization provisions, one of the main justifications for the large increases in permanent immigration and guest workers in the Schumer-Rubio bill (S.744) is that the nation does not have enough workers. But the data do not support this conclusion. A second argument for the bill is that immigration always creates jobs for natives. But over the last 13 years nearly 16 million new immigrants arrived, 5.4 million since 2008. The last 13 years or even the last five years make clear that large-scale immigration can go hand in hand with weak job growth and persistently high rates of joblessness among the native-born.
Among the findings (all figures compare first quarter employment):
- Between the first quarter of 2000 and the first quarter of 2013, the native-born population accounted for two-thirds of overall growth in the working-age population (16 to 65), but none of the net growth in employment among the working-age has gone to natives.
- The overall size of the working-age native-born population increased by 16.4 million from 2000 to 2013, yet the number of natives actually holding a job was 1.3 million lower in 2013 than 2000.
- The total number of working-age immigrants (legal and illegal) increased 8.8 million and the number working rose 5.3 million between 2000 and 2013.
- Even before the recession, when the economy was expanding (2000 to 2007), 60 percent of the net increase in employment among the working-age went to immigrants, even though they accounted for just 38 percent of population growth among the working-age population.
- Since the jobs recovery began in 2010, about half the employment growth has gone to immigrants. However the share of working-age natives holding a job has remained virtually unchanged since 2010 and the number of working-age natives without a job (nearly 59 million) has not budged.
- The decline in the share of natives working, also referred as the employment rate, began before the 2007 recession. Of working-age natives, 74 percent had a job in 2000; by 2007, at the peak of the last expansion, just 71 percent had a job, and in the first quarter of 2013, 66 percent had a job.
- The decline in employment rates for working-age natives has been nearly universal. The share of natives working has declined for teenagers and those in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s from 2000 to 2007 and from 2007 to 2013. The decline has been especially pronounced for workers under age 30.
- Like age, there has been a decline in work for all educational categories. The employment rate for native high school dropouts, high school graduates, those with some college, and those with at least a bachelor’s degree declined from 2000 to 2007 and from 2007 to 2013.
- The number of adult natives with no more than high school education not working is 4.9 million larger in 2013 than in 2000, the number with some college not working is up 6.8 million, and the number with at least a bachelor’s degree not working is up 3.8 million.
- The decline in work, which began before the Great Recession, has impacted men and women as well as blacks, Hispanics, and whites. The fall in the share of working-age natives holding a job has been most pronounced for men, blacks, and Hispanics.
- During the five years prior to 2013 (2008-2012), about 5.4 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) of all ages arrived in the United States. In the five years prior to 2007, about 6.6 million new immigrants arrived. Thus, during the worst economic slowdown in the last 75 years, immigration fell by only 17 percent compared to the economic expansion from 2002 to 2006.
This analysis examines employment trends for immigrants and natives using the “household survey”, collected by the government. The survey, referred to as the Current Population Survey (CPS), is the nation’s primary source of information on the labor market.1 This report follows the Census Bureau definition of immigrants, normally referred to as the foreign-born. Immigrants (the foreign-born) are those who are not U.S. citizens at birth and include naturalized citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, temporary workers, foreign students, and illegal immigrants. We concentrate on the first quarter of each year 2000 to 2013 because comparing the same quarter over time controls for seasonality and the first quarter of 2013 is the most recent quarterly data available. However, in Table 1 we report employment figures for immigrants and natives for every quarter 2000 to 2013. The same decline in work for natives exists regardless of the quarters compared.
Of course, many jobs are created and lost each month. Moreover, many workers change jobs each month. But over the last 13 years all of the net gain in the number of working-age (16 to 65) people employed has gone to immigrants as measured by the household survey. This is truly remarkable because natives accounted for two-thirds of population growth among the working-age population, but none of the net gain in employment.2 In short, there was a large increase in the number of potential native-born workers, but no net increase in the number of native-born workers under age 65 actually working.
Comparing the number of immigrants working (ages 16 to 65) in the first quarter of 2000 to the number working in the first quarter of 2013 shows an increase of 5.3 million. In contrast, the number of working-age (16 to 65) natives holding a job was 1.3 million fewer in the first quarter 2013 than in 2000, even though the number of working-age natives overall increased by 16.8 million in this time period.
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