Two-thirds of jobs go to immigrants during Obama’s four years

Researchers say legals and illegals are more mobile than natives in America

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Two-thirds of those who have found employment under President Obama are immigrants, both legal and illegal, according to an analysis that suggests immigration has soaked up a large portion of what little job growth there has been over the past three years.

The Center for Immigration Studies is releasing the study Thursday morning, a day ahead of the final Labor Department unemployment report of the campaign season, which is expected to show a sluggish job market more than three years into the economic recovery.

That slow market, combined with the immigration numbers, could explain why Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have struggled to find a winning jobs message in some of the country’s hardest-hit postindustrial regions.

“It’s extraordinary that most of the employment growth in the last four years has gone to the foreign-born, but what’s even more extraordinary is the issue has not even come up during a presidential election that is so focused on jobs,” said Steven A. Camarota, the center’s research director, who wrote the report along with demographer Karen Zeigler.

His numbers are stark: Since the first quarter of 2009, the number of immigrants of working age (16 to 65) who are employed has risen 2 million, from 21.2 million to 23.2 million. During the same time, native-born employment has risen just 1 million, to reach 119.9 million.

It’s a trend years in the making: Immigrants are working more, and native-born Americans are working less.

In 2000, 76 percent of natives aged 18 to 65 were employed, but that dropped steadily to 69 percent this September. By contrast, immigrants started the last decade at 71 percent employment and rose to a peak of 74 percent at the height of the George W. Bush-era economic boom. They since have slid down to 69 percent amid the sluggish economy.

Competitive advantage

The Center for Immigration Studies, which wants the government to impose stricter limits on immigration, based its numbers on the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, which favors letting the markets rather than the government control the flow of immigration, said Mr. Camarota’s numbers are “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

He said delving into specific numbers explains why immigrants have done better over the past four years: They generally gravitate toward parts of the economy that have picked up faster in the nascent recovery.

“Most of the areas of the U.S. economy that are hiring right now, like agriculture and high-tech industries, are those where immigrants have always been overly represented,” Mr. Nowrasteh said.

He also said immigrants are quicker to jump into the rebounding job market while native-born Americans, who under federal law have more welfare options and access to unemployment benefits, are slower to find work.

Mr. Nowrasteh and Mr. Camarota said another factor could be immigrants’ mobility.

Natives have roots wherever they live, and it may take higher wages to get them to move for jobs, even if their homes are in depressed areas. Immigrants already have uprooted themselves and can more easily pick places where jobs are available.

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