Illegal Immigration

Illegal Immigration Myths: Jobs Americans Won’t Do

Mark Krikorian explores the myths over at National Review.

I appreciate Prof. Codevilla’s responding last week to my response to his article on the futility of border controls in the Claremont Review of Books (the original article now appears to be online). (…)

I’ll address several other misconceptions in his article below the fold.

Jobs Americans won’t do: At the center of Prof. Codevilla’s jeremiad is the hoary claim that there just aren’t enough Americans suited to do the hard work our society needs to function, and therefore Mexican workers are necessary to fill the vacuum.

Simply as a matter of numbers, this is incorrect. There are perhaps 7 million illegal aliens in the labor force (the other four million or so don’t work), but there are three times that many native-born Americans of working age, with no more than a high-school education, who aren’t even in the labor force. And this doesn’t count those who are unemployed (i.e., actually looking for work) or underemployed (for instance, they have a part-time job but want a full-time one).

What’s more, a detailed look at immigrants by occupation shows that virtually every occupation contains a majority of native-born workers. Some examples:

  • Maids and housekeepers: 55 percent native-born
  • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 58 percent native-born
  • Butchers and meat processors: 63 percent native-born
  • Grounds maintenance workers: 65 percent native-born
  • Construction laborers: 65 percent native-born
  • Porters, bellhops, and concierges: 71 percent native-born
  • Janitors: 75 percent native-born

How can an occupation be described as “a job Americans won’t do” when most people who do it are, in fact, native-born Americans?

Nor is this just the tail end of some better time, with Americans represented by aging holdovers still willing to do blue-collar work; fully one-third of the native-born in high-immigrant occupations are under 30.

What’s more, the presence of large-scale immigration appears to exacerbate the exodus of Americans from blue-collar occupations. One of my colleagues frequently drives from Washington to central Pennsylvania and notes that it’s remarkable how, as you leave the immigrant-heavy Washington area, the fast food places at each subsequent interchange seem to somehow find a larger and larger share of American kids able to flip burgers.

The data on teen employment bear this out. While it is true that labor force participation for teenagers — the “swarms of youth in malls and campuses” Prof. Codevilla sniffs at — has been declining across all ethnic groups and levels of education, immigration accelerates the process. My colleague Steven Camarota has estimated that “On average, a 10 percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of the labor force reduces the labor force participation rate of U.S.-born teenagers by 5.79 percentage points in 1994-95 and 4.57 percentage points in 2006-07.” More immigrants means fewer teenagers working.

Read all of the rest and the destruction of the other myths.