Report says foreign-born workers gained jobs after recession

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post / November 7, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Native-born Americans lost more than a million jobs while foreign-born workers gained hundreds of thousands of jobs as the country emerged from a painful recession, according to an analysis of economic trends.

In April, May, and June of this year, compared with the same period last year, foreign-born workers gained 656,000 jobs, while native-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

“There is a substantial difference in how the economic recovery is working out for the native-born and the foreign-born,’’ said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of the center and coauthor of the new report. He added that “only the immigrant experience has been a positive one. The native-born experience — the best that can be said is, ‘They bled less than in the last year.’ ’’

The report looks at a period where some 100,000 native-born workers were temporarily employed by the 2010 Census — meaning that the true effects of the recession were probably worse for native-born workers than the numbers suggest.

The report, based on a detailed analysis of Labor Department statistics, is sure to inflame the already charged national debate over immigration. It also adds fuel to a growing fire over the larger question of whether immigration is a fundamentally good or bad thing for the American economy.

As with the larger story of the effect of immigration on the economy, the data in the new report are complex. The report does not explain why foreign-born workers are doing so much better than native-born workers. It is possible, for example, that sectors of the economy that typically employ more foreign-born workers are rebounding faster than sectors that typically employ native-born workers.

Kochhar, pointing to one factor that might explain the data, said real wages for foreign born workers fell by about 7 percent, while wages for native-born workers remained flat. Foreign-born workers may also be more mobile — and more desperate.

“For the immigrant arriving in the United States for the first time, there are few constraints on where to go,’’ he said. “If the job is in LA or Dallas or New York, that is where you are going to go. There is also less access to unemployment benefits, so there will be more flexibility on what rates you will take, what job you will do, and where you will do it.’’

One implication of the data is that the number of unauthorized immigrants entering the United States — a figure that declined during the recession — could rise again as the economy rebounds and jobs accessible to foreign-born workers become available, Kochhar said.

Officials with the American Immigration Council rejected the idea that employment among foreign-born and native-born workers was a zero-sum game.

“Immigrant and native-born workers are not interchangeable, nor do they compete with each other for some fixed number of jobs in the US economy,’’ said Mary Giovagnoli, of Immigration Policy Center, a rights group.

The report emphasizes job losses and gains among Hispanic workers because they make up the largest share of the foreign-born workforce. In construction, foreign-born Hispanics gained 98,000 new jobs between the second quarter of this year and the second quarter of last year, while native-born Hispanics lost 133,000 jobs and native-born non-Hispanics lost 511,000 jobs.

In some sectors, some native-born workers gained jobs, but those gains were outpaced by the gains of foreign-born workers. top stories on Twitter

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