Explained: Why Less Immigration Helps American Workers

Published on July 10th, 2017

By Joe Guzzardi
July 10, 2017
After more than 50 years of expanded immigration, President Donald Trump is slowly but surely ending the latest great wave. The largest surge of new arrivals in more than a century began after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that ended immigration quotas based on nationalities, emphasized family reunification and has admitted predominantly Mexicans, Central Americans, West Indians and Asians.
Immigration has soared since the 1965 bill became law: in 2015, a record 43.2 million immigrants lived in the United States, 13.4 percent of the nation’s population, and a fourfold increase since 1960’s total when 9.7 million immigrants, 5.4 percent of the population, lived in the U.S.
No legislative changes have been made in the number of legal immigrants that arrive each year, about one million or more. But simply enforcing federal immigration law, which past Republican and Democratic administrations have generally ignored, makes a difference. That’s what President Trump commitment shows. Deportation of unlawfully present aliens has been stepped up, and consequently, reports have indicated a sharp decline in illegal immigration in some months since Trump assumed office, thus demonstrating the deterrent effect to those considering illegal entry.
News that the Department of Justice will re-instate Operation Streamline to prosecute first-time border crossers as criminals with sentences up to six months will further slow prospective illegal aliens. Under the Obama administration, only repeat-crossers were charged.
Last month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics alternate household survey showed how over-immigration adversely affects American workers. The household data reflected a 245,000 increase in jobs created, statistically insignificant from the payroll survey’s 220,000. But the household study, which includes demographic data, showed that 54 percent of the 245,000 newly created jobs went to immigrants.
The June findings are consistent with the immigrant employment trend since 2000 when Census Bureau statistics showed that the total net gain in the number of working-age people (16 to 65) holding a job has gone to legal and illegal immigrants even though native-born Americans accounted for two-thirds of the working-age population’s overall growth.
Although the effect of substantial immigration increases is apparent in most of the BLS’ recognized occupational categories, nowhere is it more apparent than in construction. Only a few decades ago, the construction industry was comprised of mostly unionized American workers. They earned middle-class salaries, and had pensions and other benefits.
Today the industry is Latino-dominated and heavily non-union, with workers paid at the margin. A UCLA study found that in sprawling California, the share of immigrants in construction rose from 13 percent in 1980 to about 43 percent. In Los Angeles Country, immigrant labor’s impact on construction is even greater; during the same 35-year period UCLA studied, the percentage shifted from 24 percent Latino to 70 percent. Builders could always find recently arrived immigrants willing to work for less.
The relationship between a larger labor pool and declining wages isn’t rocket science, but rather basic economics. Less immigration benefits everyone. Between 1920 and 1965, immigration was dramatically restricted, and income inequality dropped. But after 1965, when low-skilled immigration and employment-based visas increased – and enforcement declined – income inequality soared to its current historically high level.
Millions of Americans are unemployed or under-employed while more than eight million illegal immigrants hold jobs, the majority nonagricultural. More immigration is good for employers, but bad for American workers.

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

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