"They're taking our jobs!" It's the most common refrain heard in the the narrow dialogue and screaming matches that pass for debate on immigration, on cable news shows and faux-populist rallies alike. It's the one supposedly irrefutable argument, the one that immigration opponents use to try to stoke the fears and anger of the under or unemployed--especially in this troubled economy.
It's not a new refrain. It's been heard throughout our history during periods of immigration of various groups, like the Chinese, to the United States. It's a dangerous phrase that implies a delicate balance between "us" and the "other," the immigrant, which "they" are tipping by coming into our country and taking all the jobs. It's a phrase that cuts off all debate and has even some reasonable, otherwise compassionate people nodding in agreement.
And now we find out it's not even true. From the Des Moines Register today:
With the Obama administration and Congress expected to push ahead with immigration reform, it's important that lawmakers and the public shape policy changes based on fact rather than fears.That analysis, done by the Immigration Policy Center, shows that "there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level."
It has perhaps seemed logical to assume that the willingness of many foreigners - particularly those here illegally - to work for low pay takes jobs away from Americans. But it turns out that having a large number of recent immigrants in a location doesn't necessarily correlate with a lot of native-born workers being unemployed, based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
The report shows, for example, that:
Recent immigrants make up 8.4 percent of the population in the Pacific region (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii), but just 2.8 percent of the population in the East North Central region (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin). Yet, the regions had similar unemployment rates of 10.8 percent in the Pacific region and 10 percent in the East North Central region as of March 2009.
Another example: In New Jersey, recent immigrants account for 7.3 percent of the population, but in Maine they are just 0.8 percent. Nonetheless, the states' March unemployment rates respectively were 8.3 and 8.l percent.
The report found the highest unemployment rates are in counties in manufacturing centers and rural areas, which generally draw fewer recent immigrants.
The tradition of blaming job loss on immigrants is one we ought to lose in a hurry. Unemployment is very real problem, but it's not the fault of immigrants. We need problem-solving, not scapegoating, to fix our economy and implement meaningful immigration reform in this country.