There they go again. Having failed to sway public opinion on the virtues of amnesty and mass immigration, the "compassion" crowd is focusing on the place Americans are most vulnerable: their wallets.
Purge illegal immigrants from the labor force, these zealots insist, and we merely push them into the underground economy where they pay less tax than before. Natives end up covering a larger fiscal shortfall.
E-Verify is their latest bugaboo:
"E-Verify has left millions without proper, tax-paying jobs— either because immigrants are flagged or because it deters them from applying. According to figures from the Pew Institute, an estimated 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants were in the U.S. in 2008. In some states, they make up more than half of the workforce in construction and other service industries.
"An expansion of E-Verify would put many of these workers on the street or in jobs where they won't be paying taxes. Friedrich Schneider's 1996 calculation that the underground economy accounts for 8.8 percent of the national gross domestic product is still considered authoritative by academics." [E-Verify and the unintended consequences of immigration reform, By Miranda Simon, Salon.com, June 21, 2010]
Get it? Every illegal flagged by e-Verify means one fewer worker paying federal income, payroll, and excise taxes. According to this worldview, illegals do the jobs that Americans do not want to do. Deficit relief requires that we legalize their work status.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Illegal aliens account for about 5.4% of the civilian labor force, or roughly 8.3 million of the 153 million total in 2009.
These numbers may be conservative, with the "real" percentages being higher due to statistical undercounts. But even if we count all immigrants—legal and illegal—there are practically no occupations in which foreign-born workers constitute the majority.
Most jobs thought to be dominated by foreign-born workers are, in fact, manned mostly by native-born:
[Source: Jobs Americans Won't Do? A Detailed Look at Immigrant Employment by Occupation By Steven A. Camarota, Karen Jensenius, CIS, August 2009, and see also my earlier article, Looking (in vain) for "Jobs Americans Won't Do", February 23, 2006]
While it's true that these occupations are primarily low-income jobs requiring little formal education, it is equally true that plenty of Americans are available to fill them. Consider this sequence from BLS's 2009 report on foreign and native-born workers: [PDF]
Only 38% (6.3/16.6) of natives lacking a High School degree are in the labor force, and 1.1 million, or 16.5%, of this poorly educated native workforce are unemployed. Even before the recession American workers in construction, food preparation, and building maintenance faced double-digit unemployment rates.
Prediction #1 if the feds ever get serious about e-Verify, mandate its use throughout the country (instead of the 12 states and several cities that currently require some limited use), and allow Homeland Security to cross-check names with the Social Security Administration, native dropouts will fill every job vacated by illegals.
Prediction #2: Government deficits will fall as unemployed natives replace low income, high dependency illegals in the workforce.
You see, there was never a dearth of American workers but rather a deterioration of wages and working conditions that dissuaded them from even looking for work. Music to the ears of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce that wants a steady inflow of easily exploited immigrants—and opposes any expansion of E-Verify.
Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.