Center for Immigration Studies goes political on jobs numbers

The Center for Immigration Studies issued an alarming-sounding report yesterday that, at first glance, seemed to indicate that immigrants have gotten most of the jobs during the recovery from the Great Recession. In fact, the great majority of jobs gained back since the recession have gone to natives, but clever cherry-picking of the comparison dates by CIS could trick a reader into believing otherwise.

The following figure from the CIS report tells the story:

Employment declined from 2009, when President Obama took office, to early 2010, continuing the employment shrinkage that began in 2007 and escalated in 2008. Natives, who make up 84 percent of the workforce, took the brunt of the recession’s job losses. Once the Recovery Act had kicked in, the economy began to add back jobs, starting in Jan. 2010, according to the household survey. Because employment levels reported by BLS which provide breakdowns by nativity (foreign-born, native) are not seasonally adjusted, it is only appropriate to make comparisons to the same month or time period across years (that is why the CIS figure shows employment dips at the beginning of every year, an artifact of using data that is not seasonally adjusted). So, looking at employment growth from Oct. 2009 to Oct. 2012 yields 4,950,000 net new jobs, of which 69 percent were held by native-born workers.

CIS researchers Steven Camarota and Karen Zeigler admit that our immigration laws have not changed over Obama’s term in office, but they nevertheless imply—misleadingly—that Obama’s policies have favored immigrants over natives and caused disproportionate employment gains for immigrants:

There is no question that President Obama inherited a labor market that was deteriorating. But he has taken a number of steps that have increased job competition for native-born workers. He has offered work authorization to an estimated two million illegal immigrants who arrived in the country before age 16 — nearly 200,000 of whom have applied so far.When auditing employers who hire illegal workers, as a matter of policy the administration has not detained the illegal workers, allowing them to take new jobs. The administration also called on the Supreme Court in 2010 to strike down Arizona’s law requiring employers to verify the legal status of new workers.Most importantly, he has proposed no reduction in legal immigration levels.

None of these policies affected the employment of immigrants in any meaningful way, and the authors surely know it. President Obama’s administration has deported twice as many unauthorized immigrants in four years as George W. Bush did in his first term. Obama has also audited and fined more employers for violating immigration laws than the previous administration, and the Arizona law allowing verification of status was upheld. It is blatantly dishonest to suggest that the policy not to deport young, innocent unauthorized immigrants, which took effect only two months ago, had any impact on the growth of immigrant employment between 2010 and the third quarter of 2012. In fact, as of Oct. 10, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had approved only 4,591 applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The report has several methodological problems that I will leave to others to critique, but one that I find particularly troubling is the assumption that all 1.6 million newly arrived immigrants found employment, a fact that cannot be assumed from the Current Population Survey data the researchers used. The authors have no way to know how much of the employment gain between 2010 and 2012 was from immigrants who were already in the country, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens. No reasonable person would favor policies that kept those residents and citizens from getting jobs. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that the net flow of immigrants into the country has been negligible in recent years and far slower than earlier in the 2000s. In fact, the growth of the foreign-born labor force was just 1 million over the last five years (Oct. 2007 to Oct. 2012).

Finally, it should be noted that this highly politicized report has little to do with the real problems facing the economy: slow GDP growth and slow job creation caused by the catastrophic loss of housing wealth and resulting reduced consumer demand. Until robust growth policies are put in place, all workers—natives and immigrants alike—will suffer from a poor labor market.