In the world of immigration restrictionists, there is no economic or social problem for which immigrants cannot be blamed. So it should come as no surprise that the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released yet another report yesterday blaming immigrants for unemployment and underemployment among native-born workers. While the report does marshal an impressive array of grim employment statistics, none of them has anything to do with the report’s main conclusion: that millions of under- and unemployed natives would magically have jobs were unauthorized immigrants to go away.

In the real world, however, immigrants and native-born workers cannot simply be swapped for one another. They tend to live in different places, have different levels of education, work in different occupations, and specialize in different tasks. Moreover, all workers—immigrant and native-born alike—are also consumers who sustain the jobs of other workers through their purchasing power. In short, the labor-market arithmetic of CIS just doesn’t add up.

Immigrant and native-born workers are unlikely to be in the same labor markets for a number of reasons:

  • Most natives don’t live near most immigrants. According to a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 62.5% of foreign-born workers lived in six states as of 2009: California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. In contrast, 66.2 percent of native-born workers lived in the other 44 states. Many unemployed natives would have to travel half way across the country to reach the low-wage jobs held by unauthorized immigrants.
  • Immigrants and natives tend to have different levels of education. The CBO estimates that more than one-quarter (27 percent) of foreign-born workers lacked a high-school diploma in 2009, compared to only 6 percent of native-born workers.  Nearly one-third (30 percent) of native-born workers age 25+ had some college education short of a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 17 percent of foreign-born workers.
  • Immigrants and natives tend to work in different occupations. According to the CBO, the top occupation for foreign-born workers age 25-64 was construction and extraction in 2009, accounting for 8.8 percent of the total foreign-born labor force, followed by production occupations (8.7 percent); building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (8.5 percent); and sales (8.4 percent). The top occupation for native-born workers age 25-64 was office and administrative support in 2009, accounting for 13.8 percent of the total native-born labor force, followed by management (12.9 percent); sales (10.5 percent); and education, training, and library occupations (7.0 percent).
  • Immigrants and natives fill different kinds of jobs that require different sets of skills. Even if they work in the same occupation or industry—or the exact same business—they usually specialize in different tasks, with native-born workers taking higher-paid jobs that require better English-language skills than many immigrant workers possess.
  • Workers are also consumers who sustain jobs through their purchasing power. If all the unauthorized consumers in the United States disappeared, many businesses which depend upon their purchases would go under and the U.S. economy would shed jobs.

CIS casts aside all of these considerations and pretends that workers are all the same and that there is some fixed number of jobs for which these identical workers compete. This sort of thinking underlies the report’s conclusion that “if through enforcement a large fraction of illegal immigrants returned to their home countries, there would seem to be an ample supply of idle workers to replace them, particularly workers who have relatively little education.” However, the solution to unemployment in the United States is not to embark upon a cruel and costly effort to forcefully persuade more than 11 million unauthorized men, women, and children to leave the country. We would only end up with a smaller economy and fewer jobs—and we would have done nothing to actually create economic growth and new jobs. The enforcement-only mentality of CIS is an economic dead-end.

Photo by Jeremy Brooks.