Something unfunny happened on my way to work on Friday February 2: The Trump Effect—the multi-month year-over-year decline in the foreign-born workforce population and American worker displacement, apparently brought about by improved enforcement, was abruptly wiped out by the just-released jobs report. It may be a statistical quirk. But, at a moment when President Trump is involved in yet another DACA dalliance, it brings home the fact that enforcement alone is not enough: ultimately, America needs an immigration moratorium.
What started after the 2016 election as a reduction in the rate of increase in the foreign-born population of working age turned into an outright retreat by late 2017. The last five months of 2017 saw year-over-year declines of 138,000 in August, 143,000 in September, 117,000 in October, 64,000 in November, and 77,000 in December.
But that powerful trend was broken dramatically in January:
According to the Labor Department employment report released Friday, there were 1.246 million more working-age immigrants (legal and illegal) in January 2018 than in January 2017—a increase of 3.01%. The corresponding American population rose by just 0.68% over this period.
Why? We can’t discount the possibility that another unrecognized illegal alien surge is underway. Border watchers say it is. But the numbers involved, even gross, are not large enough to explain the abrupt turn from immigrant workforce population declines in late 2017 to a sudden increase of 1.2 million+ in the first month of 2018.
The more likely candidate: a statistical artifact—reporting changes implemented in 2018. The January 2018 population figures for both immigrants and native-born Americans reflect “new population controls” used by BLS for estimating this year’s working-age population. But earlier years are not revised, so population data for this January is not directly comparable with data for January 2017 or earlier years.
At this point, it is not clear whether the Trump-era declines in foreign-born population we have been tracking will persist. A better reading will be provided by next month’s reading. If it declines, or rises less than in January, we will declare the “Trump effect” to be intact—albeit possibly on a field where revised statistics have pushed the goal posts back
More bad news: Immigrant workers took all the jobs created in January according to the Household Survey, which records workers’ immigrant status (but not their legal status). The Household Survey reported 403,000 jobs were created for the last month—about twice the 200,000 figure found by the far more widely-cited Payroll Survey.
The large rise in immigrant employment last month may also turn out to be statistical noise rather than the end of the Trump effect. But as far native-born American workers are concerned, it ruined the one-year anniversary of his Administration.
Immigrant employment this January was 2.85% above the level of January 2017; native-born American employment rose 1.28% over the same period. Until December’s setback, immigrant job growth had lagged native-born job growth in 2017.
Furthermore, of course, Trump has not yet come close to repairing the damage done by eight years of Obama. Native-born American workers lost ground to their foreign-born competitors throughout the Obama years, and, as we have seen, this trend accelerated significantly in the months leading up to the election:
Another way of looking at American Worker Displacement: the immigrant share of total U.S. employment rose steadily, albeit erratically, throughout the Obama years. It fell sharply in the months after the 2016 election, but roared back to Obama-era levels in the spring. Then it fell, but Immigrants held 17.31% of total jobs in January—up sharply from December 16.99%.
A detailed snapshot of American worker displacement over the past year is available in the Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Nativity table published in the monthly BLS Report.
|Employment Status by Nativity, Jan. 2017- Jan. 2018|
|(numbers in 1000s; not seasonally adjusted)|
|Foreign born, 16 years and older|
|Civilian labor force||27,144||27,754||610||2.25%|
|Participation rate (%)||65.6||65.1||-0.5||-0.76%|
|Unemployment rate (%)||5.2||4.7||-0.5||-9.62%|
|Not in labor force||14,235||14,871||636||4.47%|
|Native born, 16 years and older|
|Civilian labor force||131,532||132,283||751||0.57%|
|Participation rate (%)||61.8||61.8||0.0||0.00%|
|Unemployment rate (%)||5.1||4.5||-0.6||-11.76%|
|Not in labor force||81,171||81,872||701||0.86%|
|Source: BLS, The Employment Situation-January 2018, Table A-7, February 2, 2018.|
Over the last 12 months (January 2017 to January 2018):
Small white pill: Trump may not have delivered (yet) on his promise to bring back the factory and coal jobs so many of his supporters lost during the Obama years. But he does seem to have put more money in pockets of his voters. Wages grew 2.9% in January—a notable rise from December’s 2.5% Moreover, wage and salary growth for the likes of factory workers, builders and drivers outstripped that for professionals and managers last month.
This outcome is consistent with a reduction in the immigrant share of employment—and, at this point, if immigration law continues to be enforced, we still expect subsequent months will confirm that this Trump Effect is still intact.
However, this terrible month reinforces the point that enforcing current immigration law is not enough—the results are too fragile, even apart from the damage that would be done by any future Democratic Administration.
America needs, not the very modest immigration reduction proposed in the RAISE Act, and certainly not the essentially symbolic reductions in the current White House proposal, but a flat-out immigration moratorium.
Let’s get on with it.