Nativist Group Releases Hopelessly Flawed Report on Immigrants and Job Creation

By Patrick Oakford, Research Assistant for the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress

Last week the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a shocking report claiming that most new jobs created under President Obama have gone to immigrants. Aside from the sheer incorrectness of the claim, being founded on flawed methodologies, CIS perpetuates a hateful “us versus them” discourse at a time when we should be focused on creating more and longer-lasting jobs.

The CIS report is at first glance straightforward: it attempts to identify how many new jobs were created under President Obama and how many of those have gone to immigrants. CIS concludes that 2.878 million more people are employed today than in 2009, and that 67% of this employment growth has gone to immigrants. And it is not just immigrants who have allegedly benefited from this job growth, but recent immigrants, with most of the job growth, according to the authors, going to people who have come to the U.S. in the past two years. A closer look at the report’s methodologies, however, indicates that these findings are far from accurate and can only be derived from fuzzy math.

To determine employment growth, the authors looked at the Census employment data from 2009 through 2012. What is troubling with their approach is that instead of using seasonally adjusted data (which ensures that seasonal fluctuations such as holidays or school schedules are not overrepresented,) they are using seasonally unadjusted data. This goes against not only standard practices and but also the advice of the Bureau of Labor Statistics when comparing employment data over time.

With a little common sense, the importance of using seasonally adjusted data is clear.  For example, say we wanted to look at employment data from the month of July: using unadjusted data would show higher overall employment figures because of things like increased summer employment of students. But this spike in employment would not come completely from macro-economic changes or changes in domestic policies. Instead, the more obvious reason for this spike would be student summer employment. Using seasonally adjusted data accounts for these expected influences and would allow us to compare and analyze this hypothetical July data across time. In its report, CIS looks at employment over time and even tries to connect the rise in immigrant employment to domestic immigration policies. For this type of analysis it is crucial that they use seasonally adjusted data. They don’t. And this is a major flaw.

These methodological flaws lead to the authors’ finding that immigrants and, specifically, recent arrivals are the main beneficiaries of employment growth. They connect this to a broader message: President Obama has created greater competition for American workers. However, these conclusions are highly unlikely and are only possible when the authors fudge the definition of immigrant workers. The authors, when counting employment of immigrants, include naturalized citizens who are employed. These individuals, though, are no different from other citizens and should not be counted as immigrant employment growth. A closer look at the employment numbers broken down by citizenship status indicates that the authors’ mis-categorization of naturalized citizens is what allows them to reach their conclusions.

According to Census data*, 45.5% of all employed immigrants in 2012 are naturalized citizens. More striking is the fact that when breaking down immigrant employment growth over the last four years by citizenship status, it is clear that naturalized citizens have experienced job growth at higher rates and for a longer period of time than non-citizen immigrants. For example, naturalized citizens have been observing employment growth every year since 2009, and are expected to have a 5.6% increase in employment for 2012. That is over 564 thousand additional Americans put back to work under the President, the very opposite of foreign competition. These are Americans who have been in the U.S. for many years, working and living alongside other Americans. And as if counting naturalized citizens in the immigrant category is bad enough, CIS double dips by counting naturalized citizens as immigrants when they are employed, but counting them with the native-born when they are unemployed. This accounting trick creates an artificially high picture of unemployment among Americans, in the face of many immigrants receiving new jobs.

When you break down the data to exclude citizens, immigrants have actually observed steady declines in employment since 2009; in 2009 alone employment declined by 7.8% for this population.  2012 will be the first time since the recession that non-citizen immigrants will experience employment growth. The bottom line is that CIS’s claim that “most of all immigrant growth in employment was the result of new immigration” is highly unlikely.

During a period of economic recovery, our attention should be on how to create more long lasting jobs. It is counterproductive to encourage the efforts of our policymakers towards an illusion of foreign completion and harm to the American workforce. Simply put, the CIS report does little more than perpetuate unfounded myths about immigrants and diverts attention away from the efforts that have and will continue to restore our economy.

*This data was retrieved using the “Current Population Survey Table Creator” at http://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html. The search terms used were as follows: Adult Civilian Persons; Nativity-Detailed; Labor Force Status Record and Employment Status Record.

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