Immigration Vs. Teen Employment : Study Finds Immigrant Competition Contributes To Decline In Work

Immigration vs. Teen Employment
Study Finds Immigrant Competition Contributes to Decline in Work

Center For Immigration Studies
Washington, D.C.
May 12, 2010

WASHINGTON The summer of 2010 is shaping up to be worst summer ever for the employment of U.S.-born teenagers (16 to 19 years old). But even before the current recession, the share of U.S.-born teens in the labor force working or looking for work was declining. A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies finds that competition with immigrants (legal and illegal) explains a significant share of this decline. The fall in teen employment is worrisome because a large body of research shows that those who do not hold jobs as teenagers often fail to develop the work habits necessary to function in the labor market, creating significant negative consequences for them later in life.

The report, 'A Drought of Summer Jobs: Immigration and the Long-Term Decline in Employment Among U.S.-Born Teenagers.' Among the findings:

The summer of 2009 was the worst summer ever experienced by U.S.-born teenagers (16-19) since citizenship data was first collected in 1994. Just 45 percent were in the labor force, which means they worked or were looking for work. Only one-third actually held a job.

Between the summers of 1994 and 2000, a period of significant economic expansion, the labor force participation of U.S.-born teens actually declined from 64 percent to 61 percent. By the summer of 2007, before the current recession, it was down to 48 percent.

The number of U.S.-born teenagers not in the labor force increased from 4.7 million in 1994 to 8.1 million in 2007. In the summer of 2009 it stood at 8.8 million.

The severity of the decline is similar for U.S.-born black, Hispanic, and white teens. The fall-off is also similar for teenagers from both high- and low-income households.

Immigrants and teenagers often do the same kind of work. In the summer of 2007, in the 10 occupations employing the most U.S.-born teenagers, one in five workers was an immigrant.

Comparisons across states in 2007 show that in the 10 states where immigrants are the largest share of workers, just 45 percent of U.S.-born teens were in the summer labor force, compared to 58 percent in the 10 states where immigrants are the smallest share of workers.

Looking at change over time shows that a 10 percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of a state's work force from 1994 to 2007 reduced the labor force participation rate of U.S.-born teenagers by 7.9 percentage points.

Among the states with high immigration and low teen labor force participation are Nevada, New Jersey, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, California, and New York.

The most likely reason immigrants displace U.S.-born teenagers is that the vast majority of immigrants are fully developed adults relatively few people migrate before age 20. This gives immigrants a significant advantage over U.S.-born teenagers, who typically have much less work experience.

Summer is the focus of this report; however, the decline in the employment of U.S.-born teenagers is year-round, including a decline during the other peak period of seasonal employment at Christmas.

Although there is good evidence that immigration is reducing teenage labor market participation, other factors have likely also contributed to this problem.

One factor that does not explain the decline is an increase in unpaid internships among U.S.-born teenagers. High-income and college-bound teens are the most likely to be in internships, yet teenage high school dropouts and those from the lowest income families show the same decline. Moreover, there are only about 100,000 internships (paid and unpaid) in the country. The increase in U.S.-born teenagers not in the labor force was 3.4 million between 1994 and 2007.

Discussion: The primary reason to be concerned about the decline in teenage employment is that research shows consistently that it is as a young person that workers develop the skills and habits necessary to function in the labor market. Poor work habits and weak labor force attachment developed as a teenager can follow a person throughout life. As a result, those who do not work as teenagers earn less and work less often later in life than those who were employed in their teenage years, especially those who do not go on to college.

Businesses have repeatedly argued that there are not enough seasonal workers. If seasonal workers were truly in short supply, the share of teenagers in the labor force would have increased significantly, not fallen dramatically. There is good evidence that immigration accounts for a significant share of the decline in teenage summer labor force participation. In many of the occupations where teenage employment declined the most, immigrants made significant job gains. Comparisons across states in 2007 show a strong relationship between the growth in the immigrant population and the decline in teenage employment. The finding that immigration is reducing labor force participation of teenagers parallels the conclusion of newly published working paper from the Washington, D.C., Federal Reserve, 'The Impact of Low-Skilled Immigration on the Youth Labor Market.'

The decision to allow in large numbers of legal immigrants (temporary and permanent) and to tolerate large-scale illegal immigration and to turn away from employing U.S.-born teenagers may be seen as desirable by some businesses. However, this policy choice may have significant long-term consequences for American workers as they enter adulthood. The potential impact of continued large-scale immigration on teenagers is something that should be considered when formulating immigration policy in the future.

The report can be found online at:


The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution which examines the impact of immigration on the United States.