By Joe Guzzardi
September 8, 2015
The U.S. jobs market has been so weak for so long that it no longer really qualifies as news. But the jarring August Bureau of Labor Statistics reports forces the lack of good jobs back into the headlines. And that means recognizing deceptive, if not downright dishonest, coverage of the economy’s true, troubled condition.
As usual, many in the financial press touted the decline in the official but wildly misleading unemployment rate from 5.3 percent to 5.1 percent. Most economists consider 5 percent to 5.5 percent the rate consistent with full employment. Those naïve enough to take the BLS at its face value then, wrongly believe that U.S. has hit full employment.
But the August report found that the economy created only 173,000 jobs, significantly fewer than the anticipated 220,000, the smallest since March and the year’s second lowest. The financial media’s hype didn’t fool investors who recognized that most of the new jobs were in low-paying sectors like retail or food services while better paying jobs in manufacturing and mining were lost. On Friday, Wall Street stocks took a big hit, plunging 272 points.
Investors are skittish for good reasons. The labor force participation rate remained at 62.6 percent, a 38-year low, eight million Americans are unemployed with 2.2 million jobless for 27 weeks or longer, and 6.5 million working part-time for economic reasons. Nominal average wage growth is stuck at about 2 percent. And there’s this stunner: last month, a record 92 million Americans age 16 or older and neither in the military nor an institution were detached from the labor force.
Although it’s taboo to mention the effect decades of yearly adding about one million legal immigrants has on the workforce—new immigrants received employment authorization documents as part of their permanent residency—the BLS Household Survey shows that high immigration has played a significant role. Last month the little-cited Household data revealed that while total employment increased by 196,000 jobs, native-born American employment shrank by 122,000 down 0.1 percent while foreign-born employment rose by 318,000, up 1.3 percent.
The trend away from hiring Americans has accelerated since the Obama administration took office in 2009. Immigrant employment has risen five times faster than native-born American employment, 15 percent versus 3 percent, during the Obama years. In unskilled occupations, the job growth gap between Americans and immigrants is even greater. Another metric that tells the same story: in February 2009, Obama’s first month in office, 14.97 percent of the labor force was foreign-born. Today, that the foreign-born share of the employment market is 16.7 percent.
Nowhere has the gap been more dramatically and painfully felt than among African-Americans. The overall black unemployment rate rose from 9.1 percent in July to 9.5 percent. The unemployment rate for black men increased to 9.2 percent from 8.8 percent, black women saw their rate bump up from 8.0 percent to 8.1 percent, and black teenagers’ jobless rate rose from 28.7 percent to 31.3 percent, consistent with a dismal ten-year long pattern.
American workers’ futures have slowly crept into presidential politics. But time is running short. No serious conversation to limit immigration is on the congressional docket which means that legal immigration will continue at the one million a year level well into the next administration, and will leave American workers even more devastated than they are today after more than twenty years of high immigration, outsourcing and increased automation.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]