Immigrants Replacing American Workers

Instead of addressing joblessness of low-skilled natives, study shows America turning to foreigners

by Brendan Kirby | 07 Sep 2016 at 5:44 AM

Immigrants are increasingly replacing the most vulnerable Americans in the workforce, according to a study published Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies.

By now, it is well-documented that the percentage of people working or looking for jobs has been steadily dropping. The labor force participation rate is the lowest it has been since the 1970s.

“What almost no one wants to mention, at least explicitly, is this is a problem of native-born men.”

But research by Jason Richwine, an independent research analyst based in Washington, shows that men without high school diplomas account for nearly all of the decline. As they have dropped out of the workforce in alarming numbers, the participation rate of immigrants without high school degrees has remained fairly steady.

“It’s not news to anyone who has followed this that men are dropping out of the workforce. People have been lamenting that,” Richwine told LifeZette. “What almost no one wants to mention, at least explicitly, is this is a problem of native-born men.”

Richwine drew data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Labor Department’s American Time Use Survey, looking specifically at men in their prime working years — ages 25 to 54. The data exclude men who are in prison, meaning that rising incarceration rates do not explain the phenomenon.

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The fraction of prime work-age American men without diplomas who were neither working nor looking for work in 2015 was 35 percent, up from 26 percent in 1994. During the same period, labor participation of immigrants who had dropped out of high school actually rose. Labor force dropouts among that group declined from 12 percent to 8 percent.

American-born high school dropouts between 2003 and 2015 worked an average of 1,391 hours a year — the equivalent of 35 full-time weeks. Immigrants with comparable education worked an average of 1,955 hours, or 49 full-time weeks.

Richwine said the data do not prove that immigrants are "pushing out" low-skilled American workers. American men are dropping out of the workforce for a variety of reasons, he said. Possible factors include the loss of decent-paying factory jobs, a disintegration of the societal expectation of work, and over-reliance on welfare.

What is true, he said, is that faced with declining labor from less-educated Americans, businesses are turning to immigrant replacements.

The Labor Participation Rate, Explained.

Without a large supply of low-skilled immigrants to take those jobs, Richwine said, businesses and policymakers would be forced to address the underlying problems causing mass unemployment among low-skilled American men.

"Right now, they're just sweeping this under the rug," he said. "If these illegal immigrants weren't available … they [business owners] would go to politicians and say, 'I'm not finding the employees I need. What can we do about it?'"

Richwine said the Obama administration has offered little in the way of solutions to the vexing problem of what to do with idle men. He cited a June report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers on the declining male labor force participation. The report cited immigration as a solution.

"Immigration reform would raise the overall participation rate by bringing in new workers of prime working age, offsetting some of the macroeconomic challenges associated with the long-run decline in prime-age male participation," the report states.

Average Weeks Worked by Men 25-54
EducationNativesImmigrants
All47.149.7
Less than H.S.34.848.9
High School45.149.4
Some College46.947.4
4-Year Degree5150.8
Advanced Degree52.852.7
Source: Center for Immigration Studies

Richwine argued that mass immigration serves as a "Band-Aid" for America's political leadership.

"There's no incentive to pay attention to this … unless immigration declines," he said.

Richwine's study indicates that native-born dropouts have seen their work time decline from the equivalent of 41 full-time weeks between 2003 and 2005 to 32 weeks between 2012 and 2015. Immigrant dropouts only saw their work time decline from 52 weeks to 50 weeks.

Although the share of American high school dropouts fell from 56 percent to 52 percent, the share of labor performed by native-born dropouts fell much faster — from 50 to 40 percent. Among men with more than a high school degree, there is no significant difference in work time between immigrants and native-born Americans.

Richwine said low wages resulting from large-scale immigration likely play a role in declining participation rates. Out-of-work high school dropouts in areas with high concentrations of joblessness, like inner cities or Appalachia, are less likely to relocate to places with more job opportunities if low-end jobs currently worked by immigrants pay so little, he said.

"Part of the equation here is going to have to be their wages have to go up," he said.

Regardless of the possible solutions, Richwine said, the key first step is to not simply write off an entire subset of the American population. Equally important, he added, is to recognize that higher education is not a reasonable option for everybody.

"Where is their place in our society?" he said.

  1. economy
  2. immigration
  3. jobs
  4. Labor Participation Rate
  5. Legal Immigration
  6. PoliZette
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