National Data: Obama Era American Worker Displacement—Not A Pretty Picture
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We delayed our monthly commentary on immigrant displacement of American workers, based on our analysis of the federal government’s updated unemployment data, to include our new charts—above, the relentless influx of immigrant workers into the U.S. job market since Obama took office in 2009. Note that you can now mouse-over get the underlying data! (But this won’t show up if you’re reading on a mobile device).

In January, employers added 257,000 new workers to their payrolls according to the payroll survey. The survey of households reported an even stronger job gain—of 759,000.

January marked the second successive month in which native-born American workers gained jobs while immigrants lost them. But this, of course, is an anomaly. Over the whole 12 months since last January foreign-born employment has risen by 4.6%—dwarfing the 1.6% gain in native-born American employment over that period. (See table below.)

The first month of the year is one of the most difficult to calculate job creation, what with companies laying off workers hired for the holidays and the weather. A particularly bad January will decimate employment in construction and landscaping—occupations in which immigrants are over represented. The result: there are more surprises, both up and down, in January employment growth than in any other month.

In January 2015:

  • Total employment rose by 759,000 - up by 0.5%
  • Native-born American employment rose by 862,000 - up by 0.7%
  • Foreign-born employment fell by 103,000 - down by 0.4%
The quirky results for December 2014 and January 2015 do not alter the long-term trend of foreign-born workers displacing native-born workers in the U.S. workforce. Even on our new chart, the New American Worker Displacement Index (NVDAWDI) is not a pretty picture, reaching record highs in the third and fourth quarters of 2014:

Native-born American employment growth is the red line, immigrant employment growth is in green, and NVAWDI—the ratio of immigrant to native-born American job growth—is in blue. The index starts at 100.0 for both immigrants and native-born Americans in January 2009, and tracks their employment growth since then. From January 2009 to January 2015:

  • Foreign-born employment rose by 3.183 million, or by 14.7%. The immigrant employment index rose from 100.0 to 114.7.
  • Native-born American employment rose by 2.797 million or by 2.3%. The native-born American employment index rose from 100.0 to 102.3
  • NVDAWDI (the ratio of immigrant to native-born American employment growth indexes) rose from 100.0 to 112.1 (100X(114.7/102.3)
The key variable in calculating American Worker Displacement is the foreign-born share of total U.S. employment. In Barack Obama’s first full month in office (February 2009) 14.9% of all persons working in the U.S. were foreign-born, according to that month’s Household Employment Survey. Since then the foreign-born share has risen steadily, albeit erratically. (See chart at the head of this story).

It is 1.85 percentage points (or 12.4%) above the share recorded in the first full month of the Obama Administration. With total employment now at a record 148.2 million, every one percentage point rise in the foreign-born employment share translates to as many as 1,482,000 displaced native-born American workers. Implication: as many as 2,742,000 (1.85 times 1,482,000) native-born Americans were unemployed in January 2015 due to Obama-era immigration.

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, Jan. 2014-Jan. 2015 (numbers in 1000s; not seasonally adjusted)
Jan-14 Jan-15 Change % Change
Foreign born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 38,165 39,967 1,802 4.7%
Civilian labor force 25,139 26,073 934 3.7%
Participation rate (%) 65.9% 65.2% -0.7% -1.1%
Employed 23,467 24,553 1,086 4.6%
Employment/population % 61.5% 61.4% -0.1% -0.2%
Unemployed 1,873 1,520 -353 -18.8%
Unemployment rate (%) 6.7% 5.8% -0.9% -13.4%
Not in labor force 13,026 13,894 868 6.7%
Native born, 16 years and older
Civilian population 208,749 209,756 1,007 0.5%
Civilian labor force 129,241 129,977 736 0.6%
Participation rate (%) 61.9% 62.0% 0.1% 0.2%
Employed 120,059 121,999 1,940 1.6%
Employment/population % 57.5% 58.2% 0.7% 1.2%
Unemployed 9,182 7,978 -1,204 -13.1%
Unemployment rate (%) 7.1% 6.1% -1.0% -14.1%
Not in labor force 79,508 79,780 272 0.3%
Source: BLS, The Employment Situation - January 2015, Table A-7, February 6, 2015. PDF
Over the past 12 months:
  • Immigrant employment rose by 1.086 million, up by 6%; U.S.-born employment rose by 1.940 million, up by 1.6%. Immigrant employment grew nearly three-times faster than native-born American employment.
  • The civilian labor force—the number of individuals working or looking for work—rose by 3.7% for immigrants and 0.6% for native-born Americans. The immigrant labor force grew six times faster than the native-born labor force.
  • Unemployment rates fell 0.9 percentage points for immigrants, and 1.0 percentage points for native born Americans; however at 5.8%, the unemployment rate for immigrants remains below that of native-born Americans (6.1%)
  • The Labor Force Participation Rate rose for native-born workers, but fell for the foreign-born. Advantage natives (Hoo-ray!)
The last bullet point indicates native-born American workers now feel slightly more confident. Jobs are relatively plentiful, and the latest BLS report finds that wages are finally moving up at a significant pace. A rising LPR is a sign of rising confidence among people who had been too dispirited to even look for jobs.

But will native-born American workers remain confident for the long-haul? Probably not. Just look at the extraordinary differential between immigrant and native-born American population growth. From January 2014 to January 2015 the foreign-born population of working age grew by 1.802 million, or by 4.7%; the comparable native-born population rose by 1.007 million, a gain of just 0.5%.

Extrapolating these growth rates we find that the foreign-born population of working-age will double in about 15.3 years. It will take 144 years for the native-born American population to match that. By then, of course, immigrants will dominate the U.S. workforce. Income growth will be a distant memory—for all except new immigrants and the upper 1% of the native-born.

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

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