May 5, 2005: Immigrants Capture All Net New Jobs
Lawmakers Debate Immigrants' Effect On U.S. Employment
By Luiza Ch. Savage
The New York Sun, May 5, 2005
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers grappled yesterday with the impact of
immigration on American employment at a time when President Bush favors a guest worker program that would match willing employers with employees from other countries.
Members of the Republican-dominated House Subcommittee on Immigration,
Border Security, and Claims hotly debated two recent reports suggesting that all new jobs created between 2000 and 2004 were taken by new immigrants, while native-born Americans remained unemployed.
Economists testifying before the committee also clashed over whether
immigration will ease or worsen the financial strains on the Social
A recent study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors lower immigration levels, found that between March 2000 and March 2004 the number of unemployed adult Americans increased by 2.3 million, while the number of employed adult immigrants increased by the same amount.
While not every immigrant takes a job that was lost by a native-born
American, the dramatic increase in the number of immigrants holding jobs certainly 'calls into question the wisdom of proposals to increase immigration levels,' the institute's director of studies, Steven Camarota, concluded.
A separate study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at
Northeastern University in Boston reached similar conclusions, finding
that 'for the first time in the post-WWII era, new immigrations
accounted for all the growth in employment over a four-year period.'
Both reports used Census Bureau data.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. John Hostettler, a Republican of Indiana, called the results of two studies 'astounding.'
'For struggling American workers, current immigration levels can prove
challenging during good times. In bad times, they can be devastating,'
But some Republicans and Democrats questioned the findings, suggesting
that the relationship between employment and immigration was more
complicated than opponents of immigration suggested.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat of Southern California, said low-skill workers are having trouble finding jobs due to competition from
companies that have moved operations overseas, and because of a low
minimum wage that doesn't meet the needs of native-born Americans.
Competition with immigrants is 'small potatoes' for low-skilled and
low-income workers compared to other barriers they face, including
advances in technology, poor education and housing, lack of child care, lack of financing and skills, and racial discrimination, an associate dean of public policy at Georgetown University, Harry Holzer, who called the studies' findings 'superficial.'
Immigration 'cannot possibly account for' the job losses, he said,
because new immigrant jobs have been concentrated in a small number of
sectors such as maintenance, food preparation, and construction, while
native job losses occurred elsewhere. For example, the number of
manufacturing jobs declined by about 3 million over the four years, but new immigrants took only 335,000 jobs in the sector, he said.
Witnesses and lawmakers also clashed over whether low-wage immigrants
are taking jobs that Americans do not want, or whether they are
'displacing' low-skill native-born Americans by accepting lower wages.
Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat of California, said there are some jobs
Americans are unwilling to take.
'You are not going to find people flowing to agriculture to pick grapes or lettuce. Everybody knows that,' she said.
Ms. Waters proposed making employers criminally liable for hiring
undocumented immigrants and not paying them benefits, and she urged an
increase in the minimum wage.
Rep. Daniel Lungren, a Republican of Sacramento, questioned Mr.
Camarota's assertion that unemployed Americans are willing to take any
Under questioning, Mr. Camarota conceded that if immigration were
completely cut off, many jobs in the agricultural sector would be
replaced by 'mechanization' rather than filled by native-born American
'We are not going to have those jobs taken by Americans. We're just
going to eliminate them,' Mr. Lungren remarked.
On the issue of Social Security, Mr. Holzer argued that low birth rates in America mean that immigrants will eventually account for all the growth in the labor force, and 'we need the workers to pay the taxes to pay for the benefits we all expect,' he said.
But Mr. Camarota countered that since many immigrants earn
lower-than-average wages, they are likely to collect more money from the redistributive entitlement program than they pay in. 'Overall,
immigration is problematic for the Social Security system,' he said.