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Are Immigrants Stealing U.S. Jobs?

That’s the explosive question at the heart of the latest study released by the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that advocates tight restrictions on immigration. Although the report somewhat debunks the myth that Americans won’t do the sort of low-wage work that immigrants do, it does not suggest that immigrants are the cause of American workers’ unemployment, either.

The CIS report released today concludes that, contrary to the common refrain that immigrants only do work that native-born Americans don’t want to do, in fact, native-born United States citizens dominate many of the low-paying industries in the labor market. CIS concludes that immigrants are therefore posing significant competition to native U.S. workers.

Another way of looking at it is that immigrants could actually be a much smaller percentage of the labor force than previously thought.

For example, CIS finds that across the United States, 55 percent of maids and housekeepers are native-born; 58 percent of taxi drivers and chauffeurs are native-born; 63 percent of butchers and meat processors are native born; 65 percent of construction workers are native born; and 65 percent of grounds maintenance workers are native-born.

Another report released today from CIS finds that while the official unemployment rate for native-born Americans is 9.7 percent, a broader measure that includes people who have given up looking for work or are involuntarily working less than full-time, is 16.3 percent.

“The data presented here make clear that the often-made argument that immigrants only take jobs Americans don’t want is simply wrong,” concludes the report, written by CIS researchers Steven Camarota and Karen JenseniusTo talk about the labor market as if there were jobs done entirely or almost entirely by immigrants is not helpful to understanding the potential impact of immigration on American workers. It gives the false impression that the job market is segmented between jobs that are done almost exclusively by immigrants and jobs that are exclusively native. This is clearly not the case.”

CIS has long made the case that recent immigrants pose a major threat to U.S. workers, and this study is an attempt to boost that argument. Immigrants’ advocates counter, however, that such studies underscore the fact that U.S.-born workers still dominate most industries and don’t face a major threat from new immigrants. “What they’re saying essentially is, immigrants are a very small percentage of the labor force, and that’s true,” said Wendy Sefsaf, spokeperson for the Immigration Policy Center.

Indeed, a report issued by that center in May based on recent U.S. Census data finds that “there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level.” Areas with high unemployment don’t necessarily have large numbers of recent immigrants, and vice versa — areas with many recent immigrants don’t necessarily have higher unemployment rates.

While that suggests that recent immigrants flock to areas with high employment rates because that’s where the jobs are, it does not suggest that they’re edging out native-born workers.

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