National Data: February Jobs—Immigrant Job Growth 40% Above Americans Over Past Year; Unreported Illegal Immigration Surge Continues
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Employers added 242,000 jobs in February and unemployment remained at 4.9%, reprising the lowest reading in eight years. These results, while not the blowout needed to quickly absorb 8.2 million unemployed (and millions more underemployed), alleviated fears of an imminent recession.

The Household Survey, which reports the nativity and ethnicity of workers and unemployed individuals, confirmed that the job market is strong. Even better, based on our estimates, February 2016 was one of those rare months when all the new jobs went to American workers:

In February 2016:

  • Total Household Survey employment rose 530,000, up by 0.4%
  • Native-born American employment rose by 552,000, up by 0.4%
  • Foreign-born immigrant employment (both legal and illegal) fell by 22,000—down by 0.1%
The job market has been relatively strong for a few years now, but those gains have done little to assuage the economic stress and anger of the average American—emotions that fuel the candidacy of Donald Trump. One reason:
“We are seeing job growth across a range of industries, but we’re also seeing a polarization in the labor market…”

[Jobs Report Shows Brisk U.S. Hiring in February, By Patricia Cohen, New York Times, March 4, 2016]

Tara Sinclair, chief economist for the job site Indeed, goes on to describe a bifurcated labor market: robust demand for hospitality and service workers—sectors, we must note, where immigrant workers are overrepresented—keeping the total job count up; while manufacturing, transportation and energy—sectors, she notes, dominated by blue collar white men—are losing ground.

But while American workers caught a welcome break in February, immigrant share of the total employment remains high by historical standards. Native-born workers have lost ground to their foreign-born competitors throughout the Obama years. We highlight this trend in our New American Worker Displacement Index (NVDAWDI) graphic:

Native-born American employment growth is the black line, immigrant employment growth is in pink, and NVDAWDI—the ratio of immigrant to native-born American job growth—is in yellow. The index starts at 100.0 in January 2009 for both immigrants and native-born Americans, and tracks their employment growth since then.

From January 2009 through February 2016:

  • Foreign-born immigrant employment rose by 3.916 million, up 18.1%. The immigrant employment index rose from 100.0 to 118.1.
  • Native-born American employment rose by 4.937 million or by 4.1%. The native-born American employment index rose from 100.0 to 104.1
  • NVDAWDI (the ratio of immigrant to native-born employment growth indexes) rose from 100.0 to 113.4. (100X(118.1/104.1)
Immigrant employment has risen 4.4 times faster than native-born American employment—18.1% versus 4.1%—during the Obama years. In many unskilled occupations the job growth gap is far larger, owing to the disproportionate number of foreign-born workers there.

The foreign-born share of total U.S. employment has risen steadily, albeit erratically, throughout the Obama years:

In February 2009, President Obama’s first full month in office, 14.97% of all persons working in the U.S. were immigrants. In February 2016 the foreign-born share was 16.92%. That’s down slightly from January’s 16.99%, but above the 16.75% recorded in January a year ago. Since employment data by nativity are not seasonally adjusted, comparisons with the same month last year may be more indicative of the real trend.

In only three of the 86 months of Obama’s Presidency have immigrant workers accounted for a greater share of U.S. employment than they did last month.

February’s immigrant employment share was 1.95 percentage points above the level recorded at the start of Mr. Obama’s Administration. With total employment now above 151 million, each percentage point translates to 1.5 million workers. This implies that Obama-era immigration may have pushed as many as 2.93 million (1.5 million times 1.95) native-born Americans onto the unemployment rolls.

A detailed snapshot of American worker displacement over the past year is seen in the “Employment Status of the civilian population by nativity” table published in the monthly BLS report:

Employment Status by Nativity, Feb. 2015-Feb. 2016

(numbers in 1000s; not seasonally adjusted)

  Jan-15 Jan-16 Change % Change
  Foreign born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 40,300 40,960 660 1.6%
Civilian labor force 26,276 26,602 326 1.2%
     Participation rate (%) 65.2% 64.9% -0.3% -0.5%
Employed 24,741 25,391 650 2.6%
Employment/population % 61.4% 62.0% 0.6% 1.0%
Unemployed 1,536 1,211 -325 -21.2%
Unemployment rate (%) 5.8% 4.6% -1.2% -20.7%
Not in labor force 14,023 14,358 335 2.4%
Native born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 209,600 211,618 2,018 1.0%
Civilian labor force 129,937 131,677 1,740 1.3%
     Participation rate (%) 62.0% 62.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Employed 122,378 124,670 2,292 1.9%
Employment/population % 58.4% 58.9% 0.5% 0.9%
Unemployed 7,559 7,007 -552 -7.3%
Unemployment rate (%) 5.8% 5.3% -0.5% -8.6%
Not in labor force 79,663 79,941 278 0.3%
Source: BLS, The Employment Situation -February 2016, Table A-7, March 4, 2016.


From February 2015 to February 2016:
  • Immigrant employment rose by 650,000—a 2.6% increase—while American employment rose by 2,292,000—up by 1.9%. Native-born American employment grew 37% faster than immigrant employment
  • The number of unemployed immigrants fell by 21.2%, while native-born American unemployed fell by 7.3%. Advantage immigrants.
  • Unemployment rates dropped 20.7% for immigrants and 8.6% for native-born Americans. Advantage immigrants.
  • Labor-force participation (LFP) rates, a sign of worker confidence, fell for immigrants and rose for native-born Americans. At 64.9%, the immigrant LPR remained well above that of Americans (62.2%).
The wide gap in population growth persists. Over the past 12 months the number of working age immigrants increased by 1.6%, while the comparable native-born Americans population grew 1.0%.

Absent an immigration moratorium, this portends continued unemployment and wage stagnation for Americans.

And, because it exceeds projected legal immigration levels, it suggests the unreported illegal immigration surge that I have been reporting for a year is continuing.

Deportation and a wall, anyone?

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

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