National Data | May Jobs— American Worker Displacement Down Modestly As “Trump Effect” Reappears
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In the months after Donald Trump’s election, immigrant displacement of American workers and growth of the foreign-born workforce (including illegals) seemed to be reversing so consistently that we were surprised when April’s job data suddenly undid all the gains. We wondered if it was statistical noise. The May jobs data, released Friday, does not quite decide that question but is definitely more hopeful: American worker displacement is down slightly, and the foreign-born workforce population, while increasing, is below the estimated legal inflow—suggesting that the “Trump Effect” continues to discourage illegals.

May is a tale of two conflicting job surveys. The survey of employers found 138,000 jobs were created—well below expectations, as well as below the monthly job growth rate reported earlier in the spring.

But the “other” employment survey, of households rather than employers, creates doubt as to whether any jobs were created at all last month. Both immigrants and native-born Americans lost jobs in May, according to the household survey.

That’s the bad news. The good news (sort of) is that American workers lost jobs at a significantly lower rate than immigrants.

In May:

  • Total employment fell 233,000, down by 0.15%
  • Native-born American employment fell 104,000, down by 0.08%
  • Foreign-born employment fell 129,000, down by 0.49%
The overall unemployment rate is now 4.3%, down from 4.4% in April.

Foreign-born workers held 17.14% of all jobs in May—down from 17.20% in March. While welcome, this slight improvement leaves the immigrant employment share above the 16.95% level of February, Trump’s first full month. During Trump’s first two months, in contrast, immigrants appeared to be retreating and native-born Americans surging into the job market.  (Over February and March native-born Americans gained 986,000 jobs while immigrants lost 67,000.)

So for whatever reason—Trump’s litigation set-backs, the banning of Bannon, the weather, statistical noise—we have not yet decisively reversed the long-term Obama-Era trend. Native-born American workers lost ground to their foreign-born competitors throughout the Obama years, and this trend accelerated significantly in the months leading up to the election. The displacement of Americans by immigrants, which we measure by the extent by which immigrants have gained jobs at a faster pace than the native-born since January 2009, hit an Obama-Era high in August 2016.

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 May 2017:

  • Immigrant employment rose by 4.560 million, or by 21.1%. The immigrant employment index rose from 100.0 to 121.1.
  • Native-born American employment rose by 6.142 million, up by 5.1%. The native-Born American employment index rose from 100.0 to 105.1.
  • NVDAWDI (the ratio of immigrant to native-born employment growth indexes) rose from 100.0 to 115.3(100X (121.1/105.1))
During the 96 months of Barack Obama’s tenure, immigrant employment rose 4.2 times faster than native-born American employment—19.8% versus 4.7%.

Because of April’s surge in immigrant employment, Trump’s brief tenure now also shows an overall increase in native-born American worker displacement. From January through May, immigrant employment grew almost twice as rapidly as native-born American employment: 0.85% versus 0.49%.

The foreign-born share of total U.S. employment rose steadily, albeit erratically, throughout the Obama years and, after falling after Trump’s election, roared to pre-election levels in April. Now it has fallen back somewhat.

In February 2009, Barack Obama’s first full month in office, 14.97% of all persons working in the U.S. were foreign-born. In his last full month, December 2016, 17.05% of workers were foreign-born. This implies that Obama-era immigration pushed as many as 3.16 million native-born Americans onto the unemployment rolls.

The immigrant share of employment in May 2017 (17.14%) was 0.09% points above the share in December, Obama’s last month. This implies that resistance to Trump’s immigration agenda may have put as many as 14,000 native-born Americans out of work.

In contrast, by early April, the mere threat of a Trump immigration crackdown appeared, by our estimates, to have put 168,000 native-born American workers back to work. This was actually quite plausible, given the early hysteria about Trump in the MSM. Some immigrants, legal and illegal, may have decided to leave. Others, above all illegals, may have decided not to come after all.

But the atmospherics have changed since then, and the employment situation April and May could reflect that.

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, May 2016-May 2017
(numbers in 1000s; not seasonally adjusted)
May-16 May-17 Change % Change
Foreign born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 40,693 41,390 697 1.71%
Civilian labor force 26,243 27,315 1,072 4.08%
     Participation rate (%) 64.5 66.0 1.5 %pts. 2.33%
Employed 25,274 26,290 1,016 4.02%
Employment/population % 62.1 63.5 1.4 %pts. 2.25%
Unemployed 969 1,025 56 5.78%
Unemployment rate (%) 3.7 3.8 0.1 %pts. 2.70%
Not in labor force 14,450 14,075 -375 -2.60%
Native born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 212,482 213,377 895 0.42%
Civilian labor force 132,557 132,664 107 0.08%
     Participation rate (%) 62.4 62.2 -0.2 %pts. -0.32%
Employed 126,319 127,117 798 0.63%
Employment/population % 59.4 59.6 0.2 %pts. 0.34%
Unemployed 6,238 5,547 -691 -11.08%
Unemployment rate (%) 4.7 4.2 -0.5 %pts. -10.64%
Not in labor force 79,925 80,713 788 0.99%
Source: BLS, The Employment Situation-May 2017, Table A-7, June 2, 2017.

Over the last 12 months (May 2016 to May 2017):

  • The foreign-born labor force grew fifty-one-times faster than the native-born labor force: 4.08% versus 0.08%. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • Immigrant employment rose 6.4-times faster than native-born employment: 4.02% versus 0.63%. ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • The labor-force participation rate (LPR), a sign of worker confidence, rose by 1.5 points for immigrants and declined 0.2 points for native-born Americans. At 66.0%, the immigrant LPR in May, was considerably above that of the native-born (62.2%.) ADVANTAGE IMMIGRANTS
  • The number of unemployed natives fell by 691,000 - down 11.1%; the number of unemployed immigrants rose 56,000 – up 5.8%. ADVANTAGE AMERICANS, although much of this “advantage” may be due to older natives retiring, or younger, discouraged, natives leaving the labor force from lack of suitable job opportunities.
The population data gives us a glimmer of hope. From May 2016 to May 2017 the foreign-born working age population rose by 697,000—down from the 770,000 12-month gain recorded in April. But both April and May mark a resurgence of foreign-born population growth compared to the sharp post-election downtrend:
Change in Foreign-born population

from same month prior year

(age 16+; in 1,000s; BLS data)

July 2016 1,176
Aug. 2016 1,478
Sept. 2016 1,471
Oct. 2016 1,711
Nov. 2016 1,545
Dec. 2016 886
Jan. 2017 351
Feb. 2017 177
Mar. 2017 56
Apr. 2017 770
May 2017 697

Still good news: This immigrant working-age population growth in both April and May was below the 900,000-1 million figure commonly cited as the annual legal influx of all ages.

Prior to the election immigrant workforce growth regularly exceeded estimated legal inflow, evidence of the surge of illegal immigration that occurred in Obama’s last year. That means the “Trump effect” is still alive, albeit attenuated.

Of course, the foreign-born are only the tip of the immigration iceberg. The true measure of post-1965 immigration impact on the labor market and population would include their U.S.-born children. My estimate: factoring in U.S.-born children virtually doubles (+ 80%) immigration’s depression of American wages.

A tantalizing question: what if Trump had been able to step up deportationwork place raidsImplement e-verify? Start a border wall? Put the effort into an immigration cutback he’s wasted on healthcare, taxes and defending against Russia collusion charges?

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

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