Long Term Unemployment Benefits To End; Will Immigration Reform Import More Foreign-Born Job Competition?

Published on December 18th, 2013

By Joe Guzzardi
December 18, 2013

The House of Representatives is on recess, relaxing with family and, since Congress’ approval rating is an all-time low 8 percent, happy to be out of the Washington D.C. pressure cooker. 

Understanding Americans’ dismal opinion of their elected officials is easy when you consider two of the legislators’ final pre-vacation decisions. Despite Senator Jeff Session’s noble effort, he couldn’t persuade his colleagues to restore $6 billion cut from military retirement benefits during the next 10 years. Sessions proposed eliminating an estimated $4.2 billion in annual spending by reining in an IRS program that pays illegal immigrants who use their individual taxpayer identification numbers to claim child tax credits. Conclusion: the United States Senate prioritizes illegal immigrants above military retirees.

In a separate but equally inexplicable move, the House ended its year’s business without extending federal unemployment benefits to more than 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans. 

While unemployment benefits aren’t much, about $300 a week, they allow recipients to eke out a poverty-level existence. Some like Senator Rand Paul have the audacity to say that continuing benefits would be bad for the jobless. According to Paul, the economy is recovering, unemployment is decreasing and more federal subsidies might create dependency instead of encouraging a job search. The market may be strong for those looking in the leisure or restaurant sectors and who are willing to settle for 30-hour work week, but real jobs with decent incomes and benefits have virtually vanished.

Many of those middle class jobs have been lost since 1992 when the North American Free Trade agreement became law. Congress and then-president Bill Clinton promised Americans that NAFTA would usher in a prosperous era, generate an increase in trade surplus and with it thousands of well-paying jobs. The opposite happened. U.S corporations used NAFTA to relocate to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages and less demanding environmental standards. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that since NAFTA took effect, 5 million American jobs have been lost.

As it did in cutting veterans’ benefits, immigration plays a crucial role in explaining why so many Americans have been unemployed for so long. For decades, the United State has added about one million, work-authorized legal immigrants each year. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of guest workers arrive annually on non-immigrant visas. The cumulative consequences of adding millions of immigrant workers to the labor pool for decades while jobs have been exported for 20 years could have been anticipated by anyone except, apparently, Congress.

Based on BLS data and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey since 2009, 67 percent of employment growth has gone to legal and illegal immigrants. Nearly 2 million immigrants have been employed since President Obama took office compared to an increase of 938,000 native-born during the same period. Most of the immigrant employment growth is the result of new immigration, rather than immigrants already in the country who took jobs.

Immigration isn’t the only reason unemployment is high. But Congress insists that the U. S. needs more foreign-born workers even though the pending comprehensive reform bill would double legal immigration within a decade and diminish the already slim chance that America’s unemployed might finally land a job.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicate since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]

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