National Data | Immigration Lawyer Mouthpiece Tees off on Tea Party's Immigration Outlook
Print Friendly and PDF

Pity the poor Democrats. Facing an historic washout in November they are desperately trying to link mainstream Republicans to the Tea Party Movement. You know them: the right-wing racist nuts who win arguments by out-shouting rather than out-thinking their opponents.

Tea Partiers have actually said relatively little about immigration, but it's now the latest issue on which liberals accuse the Tea-sters of ignoring the facts:

"The ever-hysterical Tea Party is now hysterical about unauthorized immigrants. In a frenzied email blast to its members, the Tea Party Nation warns that the Obama administration wants to grant 'amnesty' to the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, whom the Tea Party alleges have inflicted various 'horrors' upon Americans by stealing their jobs and committing unspeakable crimes. Not surprisingly, the Tea Party Nation gets its facts completely wrong…"

Hysterical Tea Party" Rhetoric is Devoid of Facts, by Walter Ewing (email him), writing on, August 4, 2010 [ note: The email Ewing references, which we link to, is on the TeaPartyNation's members only forum—it's been reprinted by various hostile bloggers who seem to think that it's a dirty trick for TeaPartyNation to ask its members to report illegals doing something wrong.]

Ewing notes, correctly, that immigrants differ markedly from natives in education and occupations: 

"As a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) illustrates….the top three occupations for immigrant workers in 2009 were construction and extraction; production; and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance. In contrast, the top three occupations for native-born workers were administrative support, management, and sales."[Links added]

So what? Is anyone surprised? Did anyone expect to find immigrants overrepresented in corporate board rooms, law firms, or sales jobs? Or hordes of natives bucking for the janitorial and yard work gigs favored by foreign illegals?

One is left with the impression that immigrants and natives inhabit completely different parts of the job market; they never compete. That is the view from 50,000 feet. On the ground, however, things are quite different.

While the "average" native may not compete with the "average" immigrant for jobs, many natives do. In fact, there are more poorly educated natives than poorly educated immigrants looking for jobs in the U.S.:

Native and Foreign-Born

High-School Dropouts, 2009

(1,000s; population 25 years and older)







Labor force









Unemployment rate



Participation rate



Source: BLS, "Foreign-born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics – 2009,"Table 1. PDF

There were an average 1.035 million native-born dropouts out of work last year; their unemployment rate—16.5%—was about significantly above the 12.6% rate of immigrant drop-outs. That's the good news. The bad news: the vast majority of native dropouts—over 10 million—were too discouraged to look for work. Labor force participation for them was a measly 37.9% compared to 61.4% for their foreign-born counterparts.

Of course, the conventional wisdom insists this is no problem: uneducated natives do not want to do the work done by illegal aliens.

But if this were the case, there would be occupations manned entirely by immigrants. A CIS analysis of Census Bureau data debunks this. Occupations widely thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant are, in fact, dominated by the native-born:

  • Maids and housekeepers: 55% native-born
  • Butchers and meat-processors: 63% native-born
  • Ground maintenance workers: 65% native-born
  • Construction: 65% native-born
  • Janitors: 75% native-born

In only four of the 465 civilian occupations surveyed did immigrants account for more than 50% of workers. These four employed less than 1% of the U.S. workforce.

Undeterred, Ewing cites other, more detailed studies that allegedly show immigrants and natives fill different niches in the U.S. labor market: "A series of reports by Rob Paral and Associates has demonstrated, for example, that immigration is not associated with unemployment at the regional, state, or county levels."

Most immigrants no doubt come here to work. They gravitate to regions, states, and counties where job and wage growth is high and unemployment low. But that obviously doesn't mean they are responsible for job growth in those places. Yet that is precisely what studies trumpeting a positive—or even a lack—of correlation between immigration and unemployment imply.

These studies beg the crucial question: would native-born Americans be better off in the absence of immigration? This cannot be determined by comparing the economic status of natives in high and low immigration parts of the country. That's because natives displaced by low wage immigrants in city (or county, or state) A will relocate to city (or county, or state) B, where they will generally make less. Similarly natives in B who, sans immigration, might have bettered their lot by moving to A, would stay put as immigration reduces the potential benefit of such a move.

The influx of low-wage immigrants to state A may also induce employers in B to relocate there. That reduces wages in their former locale.

"The flow of jobs and workers tends to equalize economic conditions across cities." writes Harvard economist George Borjas in analyzing the impact of immigration on natives, adding that "In the end, all laborers, regardless of where they live, are worse off because there are now many more of them." [Increasing the Supply of Labor | Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers, CIS Backgrounder, MMay 2004]

All laborers except, perhaps, for Walter Ewing. Immigration Impact is listed as "a project of the Immigration Policy Center", which recently changed its name from the American Immigration Law Foundation no doubt because that made its interlock with the American Immigration Lawyers Association too embarrassingly obvious.

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

Print Friendly and PDF