National Data | Unemployment Hits a 26-Year High—Time for An Immigration Moratorium!
September 04, 2009, 05:00 AM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF

So gargantuan is America's post-1965 immigration disaster that there is now an immigration dimension to every public issue—Health Care, infectious disease, mortgage fraud, crime, school overcrowding.

Nowhere is this more evident than in employment—and nowhere is the phenomenon more pressing, given that unemployment has now reached a level (9.7 percent—14.9 million unemployed) not seen since 1983.

Mainstream economists predict that unemployment will peak in a range of 10 to 12 percent only sometime in 2010. Or later, or even higher—depending on how skittish employers are in face of extraordinary uncertainty.

Meanwhile, immigration is continuing at historically high numbers. Estimates of 1.8 million per year translate to one hundred fifty thousand per month, thirty five thousand per week, and five thousand per day.

As usual, the federal government's statistics on immigration's impact on employment are so fragmentary that it almost appears someone doesn't want to know. Specifically, the government does not release monthly data on immigrant vs. native-born American employment.

To fill this information gap, in 2004 we unveiled our proprietary effort to track American worker displacement: the VDARE.com American Worker Displacement Index (VDAWDI). We tracked monthly growth of Hispanic versus non-Hispanic employment, expressing both as an index number of 100 as of the start of the Bush Administration in January 2001. We used Hispanics as a proxy for immigrant employment because such a high fraction of working age Hispanics (54 percent) are immigrants.

VDAWDI rose dramatically from January 2001 to late 2007, when it reached 124.1. Then it stalled and finally began to decline when employment collapsed in late 2008. But it is still some 20 percent above 2001's levels—that is, immigrant displacement of American workers has not been reversed.

With legal immigration unabated, an increasing share of America's unemployed are either foreign-born or natives who have been displaced by foreign-born workers.

Once a year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases data on immigrant employment trends. Its 2008 report, released on March 26th of this year, shows a significant rise in immigrant jobless—both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total:

Employment and Unemployment by Nativity, 2007-08

Labor force status and
foreign-born status

2007

2008

 Increase, 2007-08

 % Increase, 2007-08

Unemployment (1,000s)

 

 

 

 

Total

7,078

8,924

1,846

26.1%

US born

6,051

7,521

1,470

24.3%

Foreign born

1,027

1,403

376

36.6%

Percent of total

14.5%

15.7%

 

 

Unemployment rate (%)

 

 

 

 

Total

4.6

5.8

1.2

26.1%

US born

4.7

5.8

1.1

23.4%

Foreign born

4.3

5.8

1.5

34.9%

SOURCE: BLS, unpublished tables.

There were 1.403 million unemployed immigrants in 2008, or about 16 percent of all jobless. Take away 16% from the current unemployment rate (9.7%), and we are down to 8.1%. That's the rate we had in the first quarter of this year.

Unemployed immigrants are, obviously, a direct result of immigration. But a potentially larger problem is the indirect fallout from immigration: native-born Americans who have lost their jobs to immigrants.

American worker displacement is another of the statistical "black holes" of the labor force statistics. There are no readily available estimates. The feds make no effort to estimate the damage—either on an annual or a monthly basis.

The potential magnitude of worker displacement can be readily described, however. Just compare the growth in immigrant employment to native unemployment over the past decade:

Employment and Unemployment by Nativity, 1998 and 2008

Labor force status and
foreign-born status

1998

2008

Increase, 1998-2008

% Increase, 1998-2008

Employment (1,000s)

 

 

 

 

Total

131,463

145,362

13,899

10.6%

US born

116,228

122,703

6,475

5.6%

Foreign-born

15,236

22,660

7,424

48.7%

Percent of total

11.6%

15.6%

4.0%

34.5%

Unemployed (1,000s)

 

 

 

 

Total

6,210

8,924

2,714

43.7%

US born

5,354

7,521

2,167

40.5%

Foreign born

856

1,403

547

63.9%

Percent of total

13.8%

15.7%

1.9%

14.1%

From 1998 to 2008 foreign-born employment increased by 7.424 million. Over the same period the ranks of US-born unemployed rose by 2.167 million. Question before the house: How much of the latter number is attributable to the former?

Short answer: we just don't know. But we can postulate a range of plausible answers:

  • If the displacement rate is 10%—i.e., one native made jobless for every ten new immigrant workers—then 742,000 natives are currently unemployed due to the past ten years of immigration.
  • If it is 25%, then 1.856,000 natives are out of work due to the past 10 years of immigration.
  • At 50% displacement, 3,712,000 natives are currently unemployed because of the last decade's immigration.
  • At 100% displacement, 7,424.000 natives are unemployed because of the last decade's immigration

In August 2009 the U.S. unemployment head count stood at 14,928,000. The unemployment rate was 9.7%. Absent any rise in foreign-born employment or unemployment since 1998—i.e., had a moratorium been declared that year—those two figures would today be significantly reduced:

  • At 10% displacement: 1.289 million fewer unemployed; 8.9 percent unemployment rate

  • At 25% displacement: 2.403 million fewer unemployed; 8.1 percent unemployment

  • At 50% displacement: 4.259 million fewer unemployed; 6.9 percent unemployment

  • At 100% displacement, 7.971 fewer unemployed; 4.5 percent unemployment

The Obama Administration has committed about two trillion dollars to infrastructure projects, corporate bailouts, and tax cuts to boost employment.

But it will not take, or even discuss, the most obvious step: an immigration moratorium.

Why not?

And what is the GOP opposition waiting for?

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