National Data | January Jobs— Immigrants Gain, Americans Lose, in Obama/Trump Transition Month. But Are Illegals Leaving?
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Employers added 227,000 workers to their payrolls in January, well above expectations and above the average monthly gain for 2016 (180,000.) The unemployment rate bumped up another tenth of one percent, to 4.8%, but even this apparent negative was interpreted by many in the MSM as a positive, on the theory that it reflects more people looking for jobs—people who had previously been too discouraged to even look for work.

“The labor market started 2017 on the front foot,” said Carl R. Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. “This is a good, good number.” [U.S. Starts Year With Job Surge, but Pay Gains Are Weak, by Patricia Cohen, New York Times, February 3, 2017]

We beg to disagree. Our analysis of the Survey of Households, which unlike the Employer Survey cited by the MSM reports the nativity of respondents, found a labor market in trouble. Not only did total employment decline, but the losses were entirely borne by native-born Americans.

In January:

  • Total employment fell by 30,000, down by 0.02%
  • Native-born American employment fell by 82,000, down by 0.07%
  • Foreign-born employment rose by 52,000, up by 0.20%
In summary: American workers have lost ground to their foreign-born competitors throughout the Obama years. This trend accelerated significantly over the past year—and it continues unabated in the transition month.

This is brought out in our New American Worker Displacement Index (NVDAWDI) graphic:

Native-born American employment growth is represented by the black line, immigrant employment growth is in pink, and NVAWDI—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 January 2017:

  • Immigrant employment rose by 4.340 million, or by 20.1%. The immigrant employment index rose from 100.0 to 120.0.
  • Native-born American employment rose by 5.520 million, up by 4.6%. The native-Born American employment index rose from 100.0 to just 104.6.
  • NVDAWDI (the ratio of immigrant to native-born employment growth indexes) rose from 100.0 to 114.7(100X (120.0/104.6))
During the Obama years, immigrant employment has risen 4.2 times faster than American employment—20.1% versus 4.6%.

In many unskilled occupations, the gap is larger, owing to the disproportionate tendency for immigrant workers to displace native-born Americans there.

The key variable in the displacement story: the foreign-born share of total U.S. employment. This has risen steadily, albeit erratically, throughout the Obama years:

In February 2009, Barack Obama’s first full month in office, 14.972% of all persons working in the U.S. were foreign-born.

In January 2017 17.087% of workers were foreign-born—fourth highest among the 97 months of the Obama Era. (February is the benchmark from which we will measure President Trump’s impact on worker displacement.)

The Obama Era high was set in August 2016, when 17.216% of persons working in this country were immigrants.

The foreign-born share of total employment in January was 2.115 percentage points above the level recorded in February 2009. With total Household Survey employment now at 152.1 million, this implies that Obama-era immigration may have pushed as many as 3.22 million 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. [PDF]

Employment Status by Nativity, Jan.2016-Jan.2017
(numbers in 1000s; not seasonally adjusted)
  Jan-16 Jan-17 Change % Change
  Foreign born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 41,028 41,379 351 0.9%
Civilian labor force 26,681 27,144 463 1.7%
     Participation rate (%) 65.0 65.6 0.6%pts. 0.9%
Employed 25,328 25,721 393 1.6%
Employment/population % 61.7 62.2 0.5%pts. 0.8%
Unemployed 1,353 1,423 70 5.2%
Unemployment rate (%) 5.1 5.2 0.1%pts. 2.0%
Not in labor force 14,347 14,235 -112 -0.8%
Native born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 211,369 212,703 1,334 0.6%
Civilian labor force 130,665 131,532 867 0.7%
     Participation rate (%) 61.8 61.8 0.0%pts. 0.0%
Employed 123,710 124,806 1,096 0.9%
Employment/population % 58.5 58.7 0.2%pts. 0.3%
Unemployed 6,956 6,726 -230 -3.3%
Unemployment rate (%) 5.3 5.1 -0.2%pts -3.8%
Not in labor force 80,704 81,171 467 0.6%
Source: BLS, The Employment Situation -December 2016, Table A-7, February 3, 2017.
Over the past 12 months:
  • Foreign-born employment rose by 393,000 up 1.6%, while native-born American employment rose 1.096 million, up by 0.9%. Immigrant employment grew 78% faster than native-born employment
  • The civilian labor force grew 1.7% for immigrants and 0.7% for Native-born Americans. Advantage immigrants
  • The labor force participation rate [LPR], a sign of worker confidence, rose 0.9% for foreign-born workers and was unchanged for native-born Americans. At 65.6%, the immigrant LPR is well above the rate for native-born Americans (61.9%.) (Advantage immigrants.)
  • Remember: this is only the tip of the immigration iceberg. The true measure of post-1965 immigration impact on the labor market would include their U.S.-born children. My estimate: factoring in U.S.-born children virtually doubles (+ 80%) immigration’s depression of American wages.
Looking for a Trump effect? Try looking at those population numbers. The foreign-born population of working age (legal and illegal) rose a mere 313,000 year over year–a fraction of the projected 1 million average annual legal influx. This is a dramatic reduction from recent rates.

This may reflect the exodus of illegals in anticipation of a Trump crackdown.

The light at the end of the tunnel? Stay tuned.

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

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