Analysis: In Obama’s economy, immigrants outpace native-born Americans

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Immigrant job-seekers have gained far more in President Barack Obama’s weak economy than have native-born Americans, according to government data.

Since Obama’s inauguration, employers have fired and hired millions of workers during the bust and slow recovery. The net result is that they employed more than 1.7 million more immigrants — but only 418,000 more native-born Americans — in August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey.

That number “seems like a usable tool on the table if [Gov. Mitt] Romney wanted to use it … to drive up [his] numbers,” a GOP operative told The Daily Caller.

Romney may want to leverage those numbers. He’s lagging among a winnable and critical constituency — swing-voting, working class whites in the Midwest — whom Washington, D.C. has forced to compete against the huge influx of low-skill, low-wage immigrants.

“The number sounds right,” said Mark Weaver, a GOP consultant in Ohio. “There are parts of Ohio that would be receptive to the message that Barack Obama has opened the door to illegal immigration that is taking jobs from Ohioans.”

The numbers

The job data is collected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly survey of American households. The survey shows that immigrants won three out of every four jobs added since January 2009’s employment totals, even though immigrants are only one-sixth of the workforce in a nation of 310 million people.

Foreign-born employed workforce
Native born employment

Over the last year, from August 2011 to August 2012, immigrants scored one out of every three new jobs while the economy’s growth slowed to a crawl. The number of employed native borns — the BLS’s term — rose by only 1.436 million, while the number of employed immigrants rose by 788,000.

The BLS also has a second calculation of employment that is based on reports from employers.

The employer survey suggests that new immigrants actually won approximately the same number of jobs added to the national total since January 2009.

Non-farm employers reported 131.6 million employees in January 2009, and 133.1 million employees in August 2012, which is a net gain of only 1.5 million over three years.

BLS data also shows that 1.5 million immigrants, legal and illegal, short-term and long-term, have arrived since 2008 and have found jobs, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Total workforce employer survey

(Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Even when the BLS data is viewed in terms most favorable to Obama, immigrants are gaining far more from Obama’s policies than are native born Americans.

The 1.5 million immigrants with jobs after 2008 amounted to 33 percent of the 4.5 million extra private-sector jobs reported by employers — and claimed by Obama — since the recovery began in June 2009.

“The reality is probably closer to the 30 percent [number] … between June 2009 and August 2012,” said Randy Capps, a demographer and policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a left-wing, pro-immigration group.

Immigrants’ extra gains, he said, are likely caused by their leading role in low-wage and temporary work, and by their greater ability to move away in search of jobs.

However, even that relatively favorable percentage will likely be worse by January 2013, no matter which estimate best reflects reality.

That’s because of Obama’s campaign-trail decision to grant work permits to as many as 1.26 million younger illegal immigrants over the next year, according to the Migration Policy Institute’s estimate. Of that influx, only 6 percent have attended two or more years of college, and roughly 27 percent do not even have high-school degrees, the MPI says.

Fifty-eight percent of these immigrants are already working or seeking work, according to the MPI. If they gain above-board jobs at established companies, they’ll nudge the MPI’s 30 percent estimate upwards and leave more native-born Americans and legal immigrants unemployed, in poverty and dependent on government support.

On Sept. 27, the Bureau of Labor Services announced a revision of earlier job estimates, which added 386,000 people to the employer survey of job rolls. That revision does not include data on immigrants, and does not change the household survey.

From January 2008 to March 2012, the country took in 4.5 million immigrants — including some illegals — into the United States, or roughly 60,000 working-age people per month, said Camarota.

“We’ve tried the high-volume, low-skill immigration approach for the last three decades,” he said. “If we want a low-unemployment, high wage economy, it would make sense to have low-volume, high-skill immigration.”

Public attitudes toward immigration

The damage caused by Obama’s immigration-boosting policies is especially high for Obama’s base of African-American voters, partly because they’re more likely to be unemployed and competing for jobs against low-skill immigrants. In fact, less than half of young African-American men outside the military, jail or college have full-time jobs, according to the BLS.

Polling suggests swing-voting Midwestern whites dislike Obama’s outspoken support for illegal immigrants.

Fifty-seven percent of “white working-class Americans … agree that illegal immigrants taking jobs that would otherwise be filled by American citizens are responsible for our current economic problems,” according to an August survey of 2,501 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The research institute is a left-of-center group. Its board is chaired by progressive stalwart Rabbi David Saperstein, and also includes Richard Cizik, director of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

Their poll is supported by Quinnipiac University, which showed that 27 percent of voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania said Obama’s de-facto amnesty announcement made them less likely to vote for the president’s re-election.

Roughly 11.5 percent of voters in the two states said the policy made them more supportive of Obama and 59.5 percent said it made no difference, according to the survey.

The Quinnipiac survey also showed a 22 percent “less likely” response in Florida, and a 17 percent “more likely” response.

Those results are credible because — unlike high-skill university graduates — the employment opportunities and wages of low-skill workers are constricted by intense competition from low-skill immigrants, both legal and illegal.

Currently, almost half of low-skill workers are immigrants, and even a progressive group recently admitted the competition pressures down their wages.

“In the group [of U.S. workers] that remains without a high-school degree, half of them are immigrants, so [downward wage-pressure] would be less if we had fewer immigrants,” Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-wing Economic Policy Institute, told the Daily Caller.

A Sept. 11 report by Mishel’s EPI showed that the wages of unskilled workers tend to rise by 2 percent when unemployment drops by 1 percent.

Only 40 percent of high school dropouts and 54 percent of high school graduates in the U.S. have full-time or part-time jobs, according to an August 2012 BLS report. By contrast, 70 percent of those with at least four years of college are employed.

Obama’s willingness to help illegal immigrants is especially provocative, said Weaver, founder of Communications Counsel.

“My sense of where voters are is that they would be much more aggravated by people jumping the line,” he said. People are already worried about unemployment and outsourcing, both of which are threats to workers’ living standards, he said.

The immigration issue “may also create cross-pressures with people who might otherwise be Barack Obama voters,” he added.

Romney’s choice

So far, Mitt Romney hasn’t highlighted Obama’s vulnerability on immigration, partly because he’s trying to build support among the small number of persuadable Hispanics, and potentially to avoid a breach with wealthy employers who want cheap labor.

During a Sep. 19 town hall meeting hosted by the Spanish-language Univision television network, Romney tried to boost his Hispanic support by calling for increased emphasis on family reunification. That policy, long favored by Democrats, tends to boost immigration of low-skill Hispanics.

“I want to also make sure … we provide instead the chance to pull families together [and] I want that to be the favored system for immigration,” Romney said.

“I also believe that we should have temporary work visas consistent with the needs of the employment community,” he added.

Despite Romney’s targeted outreach, polls show Obama is solidifying his commanding lead among low income Hispanics, even though more than 10 percent of Hispanics are unemployed.

A Pew Research Center survey last month showed Obama with support from 69 percent of Hispanics, up two points from 2008.

Only 24 percent of Hispanics say they’re supporting Romney, down from 31 percent who supported Sen. John McCain, said the survey, released Sept. 19.

Also, Romney is already leading among middle-class voters by 14 percent, leaving him less opportunity to collect support from more of them, said a September poll conducted by Politico and George Washington University.

Critically, the Pew report showed that Romney is trailing among working-class whites by 36 to 44 percent in the Midwest, despite winning their vote in other regions.

Romney should use the immigration issue to pursue those persuadable blue-collar voters, rather than from the fewer uncommitted middle-class or Hispanic voters, said one GOP operative. “You fish where the fish are,” he said.

Romney is already pushing hard for these blue-collar voters. Last week, he campaigned in Ohio with Mike Rowe, the star of the successful “Dirty Jobs” TV show.

However, Romney’s ability to use immigration to boost his support among working-class voters will be curbed by the Democrats’ portrayal of him as a wealthy, out-of-touch elitist, said GOP advocates.

In presidential elections, each candidate’s “personality sometimes trumps issues” that would otherwise sway voters, said Nick Everhart, president of the Ohio-based Strategy Group for Media consulting firm.

“Whatever the demographic or gender groups are, at the end of the day, if the [candidate’s] personality isn’t one that can believably have that [policy] position … it undermines the message,” he said.

Romney’s campaign has stayed quiet on the immigration issue since he won the GOP nomination.

But in several campaign appearances, Romney has said he favors high-skill immigration, rather that today’s emphasis on low-skill workers, including the relatives of low-skill immigrants.

“I’d like to bring in more legal immigrants that have skill and knowledge,” Romney told funders during a covertly videotaped meeting in May. The current emphasis on low-skill immigration “is a very strange setup,” he added, “run by people who don’t understand that we’re in a global competition of ideas.”


Obama’s Univision commitment to increase immigration to boost low-skill immigration came as the percentage of working-age Americans with jobs dropped from 60.6 percent in early 2009 to 58.4 percent in August 2012.

That fall-off amounts to roughly 3.9 million working-age Americans who have dropped out of the workforce, and off the unemployment numbers.

Overall, the working-age population includes 23 million unemployed and underemployed people, as well as 24 million foreign-born workers, according to the BLS. The foreign-born workers include roughly 8 million working-age illegal immigrants.

Roughly 26 percent of all immigrants, and 44 percent of Hispanic immigrants, lack a high school degree, and they’re competing for jobs against the 5.1 percent of the native U.S. population with a comparable education level, according to the Sept. 11 report by the Economic Policy Institute.

Four percent of native born whites, 6.7 percent of native born African-Americans and 11.6 percent of native born Hispanics lack high school degrees.

After a decade of high immigration during President George W. Bush’s terms, immigrants comprise 16.2 percent of the American workforce in 2011, said the EPI’s report.

Democratic legislators generally oppose any reduction in immigration, or any shift to high-skill immigration. On Sept. 20, for example, nearly all House Democrats voted against a bill that would have converting 50,000 annual “diversity visas” into visas for high-skill immigrants. nearly all Republicans voted for the measure.

Similarly, Mishel declined to blame immigration for any of the economic stress faced by low-skill workers, despite the data in his lengthy Sept. 11 report. “The labor surplus overall is what is the problem,” not immigration of extra workers, he insisted.

The Center for American Progress declined to comment for this article.

Despite the harmful impact on Americans workers and his base voters, Obama doubled-down on immigration Sept. 20, when he used a Univision appearance to declare that his “biggest failure” was not winning a broad amnesty for many illegals.

He promised to use a second term to push for a “comprehensive immigration reform,” which is the picked jargon for a large-scale amnesty of the estimated 8 million illegal immigrants in the labor force.

“I have never wavered in my support of comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said.

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