Immigrants taking U.S. jobs, report says

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 23, 2006|By HANAH CHO | HANAH CHO,SUN REPORTER

As a growing immigrant population continues to play a larger role in the economy, U.S.-born workers with the least education are being left behind in the job market, including in Maryland, according to a report released yesterday.

The study by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter restrictions on immigration, concludes that an influx of illegal and legal immigrants has intensified competition for jobs and hurt American-born workers.

The argument by immigrant advocates that "there are no Americans to fill low-wage jobs that require relatively little education doesn't line up with the government's own data," said Steven A. Camarota, the center's director of research.

Many business groups and employers contend that they can't find enough workers to fill low-wage jobs in industries such as food services and hospitality. And critics of the report say it doesn't factor in the overall U.S. population shift from American-born to immigrants in the past two decades.

Based on the data from the U.S. Census, the report by the Washington-based group found that the number of workers born in America who have a high school diploma or less declined from 45.6 million in March 2000 to 42.4 million in March 2005.

In contrast, the number of working immigrants with the same education level increased from 9.4 million to 10.9 million during the same period. At least half the job growth was fueled by illegal immigrants, Camarota said, referring to census and government data.

In Maryland, the least-educated immigrant workers' share of the job market grew by 9.4 percent between 2000 and 2005, to 203,000, while the share for U.S.-born workers with the same education level shrank by 7.7 percent, to 601,651, according to the report. Camarota estimates there are 134,000 illegal workers in Maryland.

The report's release comes as Congress debates immigration reform, including ways to address the estimated 11.5 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

Critics noted that the study fails to consider factors outside of immigration, including overall demographic changes. Between 2000 and 2004, the foreign-born represented 74 percent of the 4.3 million growth in the U.S. population, said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at the Pew Hispanic Center.

"How much of this is competition from the foreign-born, how much of this is demographics, how much is this the native-born getting more educated, and so on," he said.

Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, said he doesn't buy the report's conclusion that a growing number of immigrants has increased pressure on the labor market.

"To the extent that there is competition between immigrants and natives, that doesn't tell you much about a policy solution," Bernstein said. "That tells me that we're not creating more employment to meet the needs of the labor force."

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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