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Trends in Immigrant and Native Employment

May 1, 2009
By Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler

In this Backgrounder & Report, the authors find that immigrants have been hit somewhat harder by the current recession than have native-born Americans. Immigrants (legal and illegal) now have significantly higher unemployment than natives.

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In this Backgrounder & Report, the authors find that immigrants have been hit somewhat harder by the current recession than have native-born Americans. Immigrants (legal and illegal) now have significantly higher unemployment than natives. This represents a change from the recent past, when native-born Americans typically had higher unemployment rates. The picture is complex, with the least and most educated immigrants experiencing the largest increases in unemployment relative to natives. However, the least educated immigrants still have a lower unemployment rate than their native-born counter parts. (All figures in this report are seasonally unadjusted).

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 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. 
  • The number of unemployed immigrants increased 1.3 million (130 percent) since the third quarter of 2007. Among natives the increase was five million (81 percent). 
  • Looking at the number of immigrants holding a job shows a drop of 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). 
     
  • 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
  • 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 with at least a college degree has increased 3.7 percentage points since the third quarter of 2007 to 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. In the first quarter of 2009 there are almost 31 million natives and immigrants with a high school degree or less unemployed or not in the labor force. 
  • Even before the recession began, unemployment for young and less-educated natives was very high. In the third quarter of 2007 unemployment was 11.6 percent for those native-born without a high school diploma and 10.6 percent for those (18 to 29) with only a high school diploma.
     
  • 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 jobs losses also have been significant in most of these states. 
     
  • Analysis by job category shows that a major reason for the more rapid increase in immigrant unemployment is that they tend to be employed at the bottom end of the labor market, in occupations hit hard by the recession. 
Article Tags
Economy Immigration