Michael Downey's picture


  by  Michael Downey

As an undergraduate economics major with one year to go, I am amazed at the amateurish analysis contained in a new study by an immigration lawyers group that contends that immigration rates in an area have no connection to unemployment.

The study by the Immigration Policy Center was released Monday, May 19, 2009. It is starting to get some headlines in newspapers, suggesting that working Americans and, more so, the currently 14 million unemployed Americans should not be concerned about employment no matter how many foreign workers are brought into their communities.

The group tries to make the point that immigration has no effect on unemployment rates because they found no “relationship,” or correlation, between the rates of unemployment and immigration.

For example, the study shows a graph displaying how the area around Michigan, which is part of the East North Central Census Division, has roughly the same “10%” unemployment level as does the area around California, which is part of the Pacific Census Division. The main difference is that “8.4%” percent of California’s population are recent immigrants, while Michigan’s population has only “2.8%” percent being recent immigrants.

But the study is comparing apples and oranges. Michigan's high unemployment rate is probably caused by the troubled auto industry, and California's high unemployment rate is probably caused by the lack of sufficient jobs for its high population, which has more than three times the number of recent immigrants than Michigan, including more than 2 million illegal aliens.

Once we realize that unemployment is high in Michigan because of the struggling car companies, and it is equally as high in other parts of the country without the car industry, it becomes apparent that an economic study needs to look into the actual causal relationships and not just whether there is a superficial correlation.

The study also states that “recent immigrants usually go where the jobs are.” This is important because, if an immigrant moves from another country to the United States seeking work, they will typically go to the state or area with the lowest unemployment, since it gives them the best chance to land a job. They will continue moving into an area until the unemployment in that area is roughly equal to the state or area with the next lowest unemployment rate. For example, if State A has an unemployment rate of 10% with the recent influx of immigrants, it might have naturally had a 3% unemployment rate without the large increase in recent immigrants.

But to prove immigration has no impact on unemployment, you would need to show that, holding all other things equal, a state was at low unemployment, attracted large numbers of immigrants, and then there was a recession, but unemployment stayed low even with the new immigrants. This study does not do that, so I believe it does not accomplish anything relevant to the current situation facing the United States.

MIKE DOWNEY is a summer intern at NumbersUSA and a senior at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia

Updated: Fri, May 22nd 2009 @ 2:18pm EDT

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