Immigrants Have Outsized Job Gains...But What is the Takeaway?

The Washington Times recently published a piece which was, in all likelihood, intended to be inflammatory. In all likelihood (and if the comment section is any indication) many readers took it to be inflammatory as well. From The Times:

"Two-thirds of those who have found employment under President Obama are immigrants, both legal and illegal, according to an analysis that suggests immigration has soaked up a large portion of what little job growth there has been over the past three years.
The Center for Immigration Studies is releasing the study Thursday morning, a day ahead of the final Labor Department unemployment report of the campaign season, which is expected to show a sluggish job market more than three years into the economic recovery."
While the border control crowd will, correctly, focus on the fact that illegal immigrants were included in these numbers, that is missing some of the point as legal immigrants were also included. Legal immigrants tend to be very mobile, and, particularly in an era of stricter controls on some (read legal) immigration, tend to be highly educated and highly employable. However, those facts will likely do little for those who focus on illegal immigration.
Just which portions of that 2/3s number is comprised of legal vs. illegal immigrants is one thing I would like to know. I would also like to know what kind of jobs these gains represent. Short of those data points, as well as some other which I am sure would come to mind following additional reflection, I am just not sure what to make of the statistics above. That all people should be so thoughtful...


  1. I have to quibble with one statement: "Legal immigrants tend to be very mobile, and, particularly in an era of stricter controls on some (read legal) immigration, tend to be highly educated and highly employable."

    That statement might be true; I don't know enough about the many people who come legally to this country each year to say how educated or mobile they are. But the implication is that strict legal immigration favors the wealthy and educated. I disagree.

    Certainly there are specific programs, such as student visas or investment visas, that favor the highly educated or very wealthy, respectively. But the bulk of our immigration laws are focused on favoring family members. Right or wrong, Congress has placed uniting families as a higher priority than importing skilled or wealthy people. Personally, it strikes me as the right priority, though it has obvious economic costs.

    So I would bet good money that the biggest shared characteristic of legal immigrants is not education or wealth, but an immediate relative who is a citizen or legal permanent resident. Perhaps we should add that to the factors you suggest readers consider before griping about immigrants outnumbering jobs; many immigrants come here not to take jobs, but to join their families. It's hard to draw a rational connection between economic protectionism and telling a fellow American citizen that he can't take in his elderly mother from abroad.

  2. Anon - thanks for stopping by and thanks also for calling me out for blatant generalizations. It doesn't happen often enough...

    That said, perhaps I can return the favor in light of your statements about immigrants coming mostly to join families. I am just not sure that is the case. Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree, or at least mutually remain unsure of the facts. Indeed, facts are unfortunately notoriously difficult to come by when it comes to immigration in the US.

    I would point out that to the extent you are correct, those who are anti-immigration because immigrants 'steal jobs' might also argue against letting the elderly mother into the country. After all, there are economic costs with bringing unproductive (I am speaking in a strictly economic sense...I am sure the hypothetical citizen wouldn't think of his/her parent in economic terms of course) individuals into the country. I am not saying this is right or wrong, but it is the argument of many.

    That said, I do agree that people should consider the points you bring up when making a personal determination about how they feel about immigration in all its forms. And thanks for sharing your thoughts. Immigration is clearly one of the trickiest topics facing America today, and I often find it difficult to tease out exactly how I feel about both our current system and the many alternatives.


  3. Anon -

    I should also point out that, despite your minor quibble, you add strong support to my original premise. That is simply that people don't think about real people when they see immigration or immigrant-related statistics. They often don't even really think about the statistics themselves, or what they might mean.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  4. After stepping away from this for a while, I came up with another way of looking at this story. If our Anonymous friend is correct and it is mostly elderly mothers coming to the US legally under immigration laws, wouldn't that mean that more of those job gains discussed in the original post would have to go to the illegal immigrant side of the ledger?

    I know the 'elderly mother' of Anon's original response should be read as 'family member', but to the extent that immigration laws in the US are geared toward reuniting families and not attracting talent for the workforce, that lends support to the idea that those picking up jobs are more likely to be illegal immigrants.

    The main point of my original post is still relevant I think - I still want to know what kind of jobs they are and many other details before I form any conclusions. And, in full disclosure, I am inclined to support immigration for economic purposes (while fully acknowledgning that the crime caused by open borders is intolerable). In any case, certainly food for thought.