Weekly Immigration Update: New Reports Reveal Immigration Does Not Increase Unemployment

This week, two new reports prepared for the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) by the consulting firm Rob Paral & Associates debunk the all-too familiar and simplistic myth propagated by anti-immigration activists that immigrants fill U.S. jobs only at the expense of unemployed native-born workers.  We have made the case why this is not so, and we have argued that reforming our broken immigration system will help eliminate the existing market for false documentation for immigrant workers and the demand for human smugglers.  We must overhaul the current system and focus on providing sufficient legal pathways for current and prospective immigrants, rather focusing on border enforcement that has not worked, and will not work.  Even at the high levels of migration seen around 2005, those levels of migration (legal and illegal) were still only a minor fraction of the population and a small, but important, proportion of the workfoce. 

Rep. Loretta Sanchez touches on the security argument in an op-ed published in The Hill:

Addressing the current drug cartel violence must go beyond training Mexican policemen, adding Customs and Border Protection agents, and increasing the frequency of outbound gun checks. Although these tactics are essential to the fight, security measures alone cannot end the illegal flow of drugs, humans, and arms into the United States and Mexico....We must adopt a three-pronged strategy that will strengthen legitimate trade and commerce between the U.S. and Mexico; invest in economic development in Mexico; and implement appropriate security measures in the U.S and Mexico.

Immigration reform should serve as an important component of the plan to strengthen the commercial ties and security of which Rep. Sanchez speaks.  And for those who refuse to accept that immigrants have always and will always help bring prosperity to the U.S., the full article on the reports: 

New Reports Reveal Immigration Does Not Increase Unemployment

By Walter Ewing, Immigration Impact
Posted on May 20, 2009, Printed on May 22, 2009

Two new reports prepared for the IPC by the consulting firm Rob Paral & Associates debunk the simplistic myth propagated by anti-immigration activists that immigrants fill U.S. jobs only at the expense of unemployed native-born workers. The reports use data from the Census Bureau to demonstrate that there is no discernible relationship whatsoever between the number of recent immigrants in a particular locale and the unemployment rate among native-born whites, blacks, Latinos, or Asians. This holds true even now, at a time of economic recession and high unemployment.

These reports are the first two installments of a three-part series, Untying the Knot, which seeks to unravel the complex and frequently misrepresented relationship between immigration and unemployment. The first report, “The Unemployment and Immigration Disconnect,” analyzes the relationship (or lack thereof) between recent immigration and the general unemployment rate in different regions, states, and counties. The report finds that areas with high unemployment rates do not necessarily have large numbers of recent immigrants. For instance, recent immigrants are 7.3% of the population in New Jersey and only 0.8% of the population in Maine, yet unemployment rates are nearly identical in both states. On average, counties with lower unemployment rates have larger populations of recent immigrants.

The second report, “Immigration and Native-Born Unemployment Across Racial/Ethnic Groups,” analyzes the relationship between recent immigration and unemployment among native-born whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians in different states and metropolitan areas. According to the report, the unemployment rate among African Americans is, on average, lower in states and metropolitan areas with the most recent immigrants in the labor force. For example, recent immigrants are 17% of the labor force in Miami and only 3% of the labor force in Cleveland, yet the unemployment rate of native-born blacks in Cleveland is double that of Miami. Rob Paral, Principal of Rob Paral & Associates, points out:

“On the question of race we find that there’s just no connection between immigration and unemployment. The culprit when it comes to unemployment is not immigration.”

Among serious immigration researchers, these findings should come as little surprise. Immigrants go where the jobs are, and the causes of unemployment among the native-born are far too complicated to be reduced to some simple-minded “immigrant vs. native” arithmetic. In addition, employment is not a zero-sum game in which workers compete for some fixed number of jobs. In the real world, workers don’t just fill jobs, but also buy homes and consumer goods, save and invest money, start businesses, and pay taxes-all of which increase the demand for labor. During a press call hosted by IPC today, Dan Siciliano, Executive Director of the Program in Law, Economics, and Business at Stanford Law School, explains:

“The level of unemployment in the U.S. is painful, scary and difficult-so we shouldn’t belittle it. However, the very notion that immigration has anything to do with unemployment does just that. It belittles the challenge of unemployment.”

Although it might be politically expedient in some circles to blame immigrants for unemployment, it is-quite simply-wrong.