US study - Immigrants probably don't take jobs from Americans

It has been strongly argued by some interests that the millions of foreigners who have entered the United States over the last decade took jobs from American workers. However, a study released last week by the Pew Hispanic Center found that there was no evidence to support that claim for the country as a whole.

Based on Census Bureau data, the study found that 14 states with high immigration rates after 1990, including Texas, Nevada and Georgia, also had higher-than-average employment rates for American-born workers. Those 14 states accounted for 24 percent of American workers.

But, in eight states that had big increases in immigrants in the same period, employment rates for American workers were below average. Those states were home to 15 percent of American workers. The Pew Hispanic Center analyzed immigration state by state using U.S. Census data, evaluating it against unemployment levels. No clear correlation between the two could be found.

The study concluded that there was no consistent link between surging growth in immigration and declines in employment for Americans.

Other factors, such as economic growth, have likely played a larger role in influencing the American job market, said Rakesh Kochhar, principal author of the report and an economist at the Pew Hispanic Center in the District. "We are simply looking for a pattern across 50 states, and we did not find one," Kochhar said.

Immigration policy is a central issue in this fall's congressional elections. The report's findings appear to refute the idea - often voiced by supporters of stricter immigration laws - that foreign workers depress wages and take jobs from American workers, especially those with less education and fewer skills.

The Pew Hispanic Center is one of several research groups funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to develop and distribute unbiased information on controversial topics, such as climate change and genetic engineering. The Pew Hispanic Center has published respected polls and reports on the role of Hispanics in the United States.

The study used Census Bureau data to compare the influx of immigrants and unemployment rates in each state between 1990 and 2000, a period of robust economic growth, and between 2000 and 2004, a period of slower growth.

In the 10 states with the top employment rates from 2000 to 2004, for example, five states showed a high influx of immigrants while the other five showed little growth in the foreign-born population. "Even in relatively slow economic times, a relationship fails to reveal itself," Kochhar said.

The Pew report found that nearly 25 percent of native-born workers live in states where rapid growth of the immigrant population occurred at the same time as above-average employment prospects. Only 15 percent of American workers live in high-immigration states with below-average employment prospects. The 60 percent of American workers living in states with slower immigrant growth did not consistently enjoy higher employment levels, the report showed.

Locally, the lack of any consistent relationship between the inflow of immigrants and native-born employment was apparent. In the District, both the growth in the foreign-born workforce and the employment rate for native-born workers were below average in 2000 and 2004.

In 2000, Maryland and Virginia had below-average growth in the foreign-born population and above-average employment rates for native-born workers. In 2004, both states experienced above-average growth of both the foreign-born workforce and native-born employment rates.

Census data and estimates show the United States had 28 million immigrants -- legal and illegal -- age 16 and older in 2000, an increase of 61 percent from 1990. By 2004, there were 32 million. The majority are Latinos, followed by Asians. The Pew study did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

The report pointed out that immigrants typically move to booming areas of the country with low unemployment rates.

The study confirmed that the boom of the 90's brought surges in immigration to states that had not seen such intense flows, including Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina where immigrant populations increased more than 200 percent.

From 2000 to 2004, the study found, increases in immigrants coincided with high employment rates for American workers in 27 states and the District of Columbia, which encompassed 67 percent of workers born in the United States.

"It's unclear as to whether immigrant workers help to cause that boom, but they certainly haven't detracted from it," said Randy Capps, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute.

"The findings are entirely plausible, contradicting a notion that immigrants are broadly hurting native-born workers," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, a non-partisan group that focuses on low-wage workers.

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