Friday, July 23, 2004

Immigrants and Jobs

July 23, 2004OP-ED COLUMNIST
Who's Getting the New Jobs?By BOB HERBERT
A startling new study shows that all of the growth in the employed population in the United States over the past few years can be attributed to recently arrived immigrants.
The study found that from the beginning of 2001 through the first four months of 2004, the number of new immigrants who found work in the U.S. was 2.06 million, while the number of native-born and longer-term immigrant workers declined by more than 1.3 million.
The study, from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, is further confirmation that despite the recovery from the recession of 2001, American families are still struggling with serious issues of joblessness and underemployment.
The study does not mean that native-born workers and long-term immigrants are not finding jobs. The American workplace is a vast, dynamic, highly competitive arena, with endless ebbs and flows of employment. But as the study tallied the gains and losses since the end of 2000, it found that new immigrants acquired as many jobs as the other two groups lost, and then some.
Andrew Sum, the director of the center and lead author of the study, said he hoped his findings would spark a long-needed analysis of employment and immigration policies in the U.S. But he warned against using the statistics for immigrant-bashing.
"We need a serious, honest debate about where we are today with regard to labor markets," said Professor Sum, whose work has frequently cited the important contributions immigrants have made. The starkness of the study's findings, he said, is an indication that right now "there is something wrong."
The study found that the new immigrants entering the labor force were mostly male and "quite young," with more than one-fourth under the age of 25, and 70 percent under 35.
"Hispanics formed the dominant group of new immigrants," the study said, "with migrants from Mexico and Central America playing key roles. Slightly under 56 percent of the new immigrant workers were Hispanic, nearly another one-fifth were Asian, 18 percent were white, not-Hispanic, and 5 percent were black."
Those most affected by the influx of new immigrant workers are young, less well-educated American workers and so-called established immigrants, those who have been in the U.S. for a number of years.
Simply stated, there are not enough jobs being created to accommodate the wide variety of demographic groups in need of work. With that being the case, and with some employers actively recruiting new immigrants, the inevitable result has been the displacement of previously employed workers, especially in the less skilled and lower-income categories.
College-educated middle-class workers appear to be holding their own in the current employment environment, although significant numbers are underemployed. The situation is much bleaker for high school graduates and dropouts, especially for men, both black and white, and teenagers.
The new immigrants are not spread evenly across the U.S. The study identified 16 states that each had 50,000 or more new immigrants in the civilian labor force, ranging from slightly fewer than 55,000 in Colorado and Pennsylvania to 276,000 in Texas, and a high of 555,000 in California.
Professor Sum said he used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey, as opposed to its payroll survey (which is preferred by many economists), because it includes a number of categories of employment - contract workers, farm labor and others - that attract substantial immigrant labor but are not monitored by the payroll survey.
But even in the traditional area of manufacturing, for example, the employment of new immigrants has been significant. Referring to the period from 2000 to the fall of 2003, the study said, "Nearly 320,000 new immigrants obtained employment in the nation's manufacturing industries at a time when total wage and salary employment in these industries declined by more than 2.7 million positions."
If we are going to continue to encourage immigration, it's essential that we move once again toward full employment. Let the discussions begin now on how to get there. In the absence of full employment, an ugly face-off between American workers and newly arriving immigrants will be inevitable. That is not something we want or need to see.


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