Report: Immigrant Unemployment At Record High

Report: Immigrant Unemployment at Record High
Rate now exceeds native-born, a change from recent past

Center for Immigration Studies
Washington, D.C.
Contact: Steven Camarota,, (202) 466-8185

WASHINGTON (April 30, 2009) A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies finds that immigrants have been harder hit by the recession than natives. Unemployment among immigrants (legal and illegal) was higher in the first quarter of 2009 than at any time since 1994, when immigrant data was first collected separately. This represents a change from the recent past, when native-born Americans had the higher unemployment rate.

The report is entitled, 'Trends in Immigrant and Native Employment.' It is co-authored by Dr. Steven Camarota, the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, and Karen Jensenius, a Research Demographer at the Center.

Among the findings:

Immigrant unemployment in the first quarter of 2009 was 9.7 percent, the highest level since 1994, when data began to be collected for immigrants. The current figure for natives is 8.6 percent, also the highest since 1994.

The immigrant unemployment rate is now 5.6 percentage points higher than in the third quarter of 2007, before the recession began. Native unemployment has increased 3.8 percentage points over the same period.

Among immigrants who have arrived since the beginning of 2006 unemployment is 13.3 percent.

The number of unemployed immigrants increased 1.3 million (130 percent) since the third quarter of 2007. Among natives the increase was five million (81percent).

The number of immigrants holding a job dropped 2.1 million (9 percent) from the third quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of this year. For natives, the drop was 4.5 million (4 percent).

There is no way to know if the current trend will continue. But these high unemployment rates for immigrants and natives raise the question of whether it makes sense to continue admitting so many new immigrants. In FY 2008, some 1.45 million new immigrants (temporary and permanent) were given work authorization.

From 1994 until a few years ago immigrants consistently had higher unemployment than natives, though the rates tended to converge over time. By 2005 natives consistently had higher unemployment rates.

In the second half of 2007 and into 2008 unemployment began to rise slightly faster for immigrants than for natives. By the first quarter of this year, immigrants had higher unemployment than natives.

Unemployment has risen faster among the least-educated immigrants. The unemployment rate for immigrants without a high school diploma has increased 9.9 percentage points since the third quarter of 2007, reaching 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009. For natives without a high school diploma it increased 7.9 percentage points, reaching 19.5 percent during the same period.

The unemployment rate for immigrants with at least a college degree has increased 3.7 percentage points since the third quarter of 2007, reaching 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009. For natives it increased 1.5 percentage points to 4.0 percent.

There is little evidence of a labor shortage, particularly for less-educated workers. There are now almost 31 million natives and immigrants with a high school degree or less who are unemployed or not in the labor force. (Persons not in the labor force are those between 18-65 who are neither working nor looking for work.)

Even before the recession began, unemployment for less-educated natives was very high. In the third quarter of 2007 unemployment was 11.6 percent for natives without a high school diploma and 10.6 percent for those (18 to 29) with only a high school diploma.

The states with the largest decline in immigrant employment are Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Virginia, and California. Native-born job losses also have been significant in most of these states.

A major reason for the more rapid increase in immigrant unemployment is that they tend to be employed in occupations hit hard by the recession. However, the larger increase in unemployment for educated immigrants is harder to explain.

Methodology and Data: The statistics in this report come from the public-use files of the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is collected monthly by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Immigrants are all persons who are not U.S. citizens at birth. In the CPS this includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary workers, and illegal aliens. About one-third of immigrant workers in the CPS are estimated to be in the country illegally. The CPS is the primary data source for the nations unemployment rate and other labor-force-related statistics. The figures in this analysis are all seasonally unadjusted. Unadjusted numbers are computationally straightforward and easy for other researchers to replicate. In this report we use the term immigrant, to refer to all of the foreign born, including: naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary workers, and illegal aliens.

# # # # # # # #v # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.