Restrictionist Group Blames Immigrants for Teen Unemployment

Written by on May 12, 2010 in Demographics, Employment and Wages with 4 Comments
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In a new report, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) attempts to blame immigrants for the declining share of native-born teenagers in the United States who join the U.S. labor force during the summer months. However, in its rush to blame immigrants, CIS completely overlooks an even more important factor that has fueled declining labor-force participation rates among U.S. teenagers over the past decade and a half. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes in a policy memo, a “startling omission” from the CIS report is the fact that school enrollment among teenagers “has dramatically increased, even in the summer. This increase more than makes up for the decline in teen employment.” In other words, many teenagers are staying out of the job market not because immigrants are out-competing them, but because they are getting an education. CIS should be applauding this fact given that education is critical to the eventual labor-market success of U.S. teenagers.

It is noteworthy that, during the panel discussion accompanying the roll out of the CIS report, panelist Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration pointed to this and a host of other non-immigration-related factors that have probably contributed to falling teen labor-force participation rates. In addition to rising school enrollment rates, Lowell mentioned higher labor-force participation rates among senior citizens, increasing numbers of women taking less-skilled jobs as a result of welfare reform, the “professionalization” of less-skilled jobs such as lawn care and babysitting, and—especially during the current recession—employers favoring out-of-work adults over teenage job applicants. Yet none of these factors receives any mention in the CIS report.

In addition, the CIS report sets up a false comparison between the share of native-born teenagers in seasonal labor markets during the summer months and the share of immigrant workers in general. Yet most immigrant workers are likely filling full-time, year-round jobs—not seasonal, summer-only jobs. A retailer looking for extra help during tourist season might be inclined to hire a teenager looking for three months of summer-only employment. But a fast-food restaurant looking for a year-round cashier wants someone who can work 12 months. In other words, many teenagers may be looking for seasonal jobs, but most immigrants are likely filling year-round jobs. This means that most immigrants are not competing with most native-born teenagers for summer-only jobs.

In the final analysis, the CIS report fails to convincingly back up its claim that “immigration accounts for a significant share of the decline in teen labor force participation.” Given the wide range of other factors that influence teen labor-force participation rates, and the overwhelming impact of rising school enrollment on the numbers of teenagers delaying their entry into the labor force, it seems likely that the impact of immigration on employment opportunities for teenagers is relatively small. But you would never know that from reading the CIS report.

Photo by silverlinedwinnebago.

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