How Immigration Steals Jobs,
Depresses Native Births
By Virginia Deane Abernethy
marriage, and births are bound up tightly together. Young
people who have jobs and a bright future tend to marry and
plan a family. Young people without jobs, or finding only
jobs that are below their expectations, do not marry and try
to avoid parenthood. For as long as it takes.
History shows that rapid growth in the number of people looking
for work depresses wages and conditions of work. Labor force
growth - if not matched by enough new capital to both create
jobs and maintain the usual level of capital investment per
job - results in lower paid jobs, worse working conditions,
fewer benefits or some combination of these.
Part of the pain of the present recession comes from growth
in the labor force that is more rapid than almost any economy
could absorb, even in times of high demand for goods and services.
And yes, the 2.4 million jobs lost since the start of 2001
and a record low U.S. birth rate in 2002 are linked, as in
A-causes-B. People without jobs, or good enough jobs, try
to avoid the responsibility of parenthood.
A long-lasting trend, beginning with the 1973-74 oil shock
and persisting due to mass immigration's pressure on labor,
causes today's average intact family to need the incomes of
two working parents. Together, they can usually support the
family life style and educational opportunities for children
that previously were afforded on one - typically the father's
Conditions that force married women and mothers of very young
children into the labor force do not encourage larger family
size. Since 1975, Americans have not had enough children even
to replace themselves! U.S. births in the generation that
is now 20 to nearly 40 years old - that is, people born after
1965 - did not cause the booming supply of labor that competes
for jobs in today's market.
The crowded labor market faced by today's labor force is caused
by a rapidly increasing number of foreign-born workers. In
the 1990s, more than 13 million net new immigrants arrived
in the United States, accounting for a 7.5 million increase,
or 48% of the net growth, in the nation's labor force. Write
Andrew Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market
Studies of Northeastern University, "New foreign immigrants
contributed nearly one-half of the growth in the nation's
civilian labor force" - labor force defined as those
of working age either employed or looking for work.
Men face the greatest job competition because 70% of working-age
immigrants are male. In fact, 8 of 10 male workers joining
the labor force between 1990 and 2000 were newly arrived immigrants.
In his book, Heaven's Gate, economist George Borjas of Harvard
University shows that enlargement of the labor force by immigration
is very costly to workers. In 1998, the most recent year calculated,
the immigration-related combination of wage depression and
job displacement cost native American workers $152 billion.
That loss is repeated annually, only increasing with the size
of the immigrant labor force. Updating figures based on latest
government statistics, Edwin Rubenstein calculates that the
total annual income loss from immigration suffered by native-born
workers is $302.9 billion.
Employers gain from cheap labor - about $7 to 10 billion more
than workers lose. This "immigration surplus," trivial
in a $10 trillion economy, amounts to a huge redistribution
of wealth from employees to the employers of labor. The process
polarizes rich and poor, progressively undermining the middle
In 1996, Herbert Stein, former chairman of the president's
Council of Economic Advisers, observed that, "the risk
of becoming unemployed has now spread to people who did not
expect to have that risk." Even when - for the first
time in many years - unemployment dipped below 5 percent in
1997 and briefly reached 4 percent in year 2000, some observers
suggested that fewer than half of Americans were as financially
secure as they had been some decades earlier. In 1995, a feature
article in U.S. News and World Report showed that well-compensated
industrial jobs were being replaced with lower-capitalized
service, temporary, or part-time jobs with few benefits. So
despite an increase in the net number of jobs, many families
were worse off. Family income was, and is, maintained by having
more members of the family in the labor force, and many working
two jobs -- the highest proportion in half a century.
Hourly labor is not alone in enduring the effects of labor
market saturation. Professionals in technical fields where
fluent English is not required also suffer. Between 1968 and
1995, engineers with 10 years experience were hit with a 13
% constant-dollar decline in wages, moving demographer Michael
Teitelbaum to declare the obvious, that the problem was too
many engineers for too few jobs.
In 1995 (Jan. 20), Joel B. Snyder testified before the U.S.
Commission on Immigration Reform, on behalf of the one-quarter-million-member
Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers, that immigration
is the cause of significant increases in unemployment and
underemployment among engineers. Similar labor surpluses exist
in chemistry, physics, mathematics and other specialties.
Phyllis Schlafly attributes increasing unemployment among
American engineers and information technology specialists
(programmers) to the large number of foreigners admitted to
the United States. Technically not immigrants, they enter
under H-1B, limited in number, and unlimited L-1 visas. The
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently counted 384,191 foreigners
who hold H-1B and 328,480 who hold L-1 visas. That number
working in the United States in 2001 excludes those who have
had visas extended for an allowable 3-year period or who work
in educational institutions. Schlafly cites estimates of at
least 890,000 H-1B job-holders in the United States at any
Congress passed the H-1B and L-1 visa programs in response
to industry cries of insufficient labor. But businesses that
are most importune, especially those hiring computer programmers,
are arguably self-serving in claiming labor shortages.
Before the current recession, computer science professor Norman
Matloff cited a 17 percent unemployment rate for programmers
over 50 years of age. At the height of the business cycle,
salaries for computer programmers were rising modestly, but
not at the rate that would suggest labor shortage. Matloff
states that the profit motive - without regard for fellow
Americans - explains industry's eagerness to import workers,
because "imported programmers are paid between 15% and
30% less than their native counterparts."
Congress's watchdog, the General Accounting Office, takes
no official position on scarcity of skilled labor. Nevertheless,
in 1998 the GAO pointed out serious flaws in two studies that
were a primary basis for claims of skilled-labor shortage.
The current recession has increased unemployment in almost
all sectors of the workforce, and immigrants typically have
higher unemployment rates than native-born Americans. The
differential persists during recessions - in 2002 the immigrant
unemployment rate increased to 6.5% - several points higher
that the rate for native-born workers at that time.
Nevertheless, a strange, counter-intuitive pattern emerges.
Between 2000 and 2002, inclusive, nearly 600,000 more immigrants
found employment. At the same time, 1.5 million native-born
Americans became unemployed.
Thus, although the recession caused higher unemployment
on a percentage basis among the immigrant sector than among
native-born Americans, the total number of jobs held by immigrants
increased, while native-born Americans lost jobs. Write Andrew
Sum and his co-investigators, "All of the decline in
net employment over the 2000-2002 period was borne by native-born
Sum and his colleagues suggest a pattern: "In a slack
economy, where the number of unemployed substantially exceed
the estimated number of job vacancies, gains in employment
of the foreign born are increasingly more likely to come at
the expense of native born workers." Especially during
recessions, immigrants take American jobs.
Between 2000 and 2002, the working-age, foreign-born population
grew by 1.6 million because "push" factors for emigration
and the United States' policies favoring mass immigration
persisted virtually unchanged. Despite the recession and the
9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center, government and
major corporations show little hesitancy to welcome foreigners.
By May, 2003, the national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent.
Hispanic unemployment - a proxy for immigrant unemployment
- was 8.2 percent. Paul Harrington, part of the Northeastern
University group studying the labor market effect of immigration,
explains "rising employment and rising unemployment for
the same group of people
happens when the labor force
surges faster than the number of unemployed people."
Labor market effects are issues for all Americans who wish
to preserve a strong and vital middle class. Since approximately
1974, the working and middle classes have experienced a significant
erosion in buying power, in leisure and family time, and in
women's economic freedom to choose to be a full-time homemaker
Indeed, the labor market in place almost continuously for
over 25 years discourages young Americans from becoming economically
independent of their parents. For many, leaving home is an
unaffordable choice. For others, economic independence is
won through hard work and extensive time commitments to career
that militate against developing relationships.
Women may be as reluctant to marry a man who has not proved
himself financially successful as men resist marrying without
the wherewithal to support a family. The result is the singles
culture, a postponement of both marriage and the responsibilities
Mass immigration strengthens the forces that lead to delayed
marriage and declining fertility rates among the native-born
population. Harsh labor market competition, depressed wages,
and threatened unemployment propel choices toward later marriage
and smaller family size.
Explicit measurement of immigration's effect on the employment
prospects of successive cohorts of young Americans supports
this dismal view. Calculating labor market forces and their
effect on decision-making, economist Diane Macunovich concludes
in her 1999 article in Population and Environment that one
native U.S. birth is foregone for every immigrant that comes.
Continuing current immigration policy results in replacing
the present ethnic mix of Americans with a new people. Immigrants
- fine though they may be - inevitably introduce their own
cultures and dilute the existing culture. Replacement by newcomers
who bring different values and share little kinship is not
the sort of continuity envisioned by the average loyal American.
If the existing population expects to see its own reflection
in the American future, the nation must show its young adults
a more caring face. If the economy cannot grow, or when it
grows slowly, the limited pool of jobs, and the limited opportunity
that exists, should be set aside for America's own.