20 November 2015

The Latest Immigration and Employment News

Unemployment Down

The unemployment rate in Colorado in October (3.8%) was the lowest since August 2007. The national unemployment rate has also declined significantly to 5.0%.

The Denver metropolitan area has long tended to have a lower unemployment rate than the state as a whole, and its unemployment rate is approaching the theoretical floor that economists call "full employment" at which almost all unemployment involves brief periods of transition between jobs.

Mexicans Leaving The U.S.

More Mexican immigrants left the United States than entered the United States in 2014.
The Pew Research Center found that slightly more than 1 million Mexicans and their families, including American-born children, left the U.S. for Mexico from 2009 to 2014. During the same five years, 870,000 Mexicans came to the U.S., resulting in a net flow to Mexico of 140,000. . . . Pew said there were 11.7 million Mexicans living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of 12.8 million in 2007. That includes 5.6 million living in the U.S. illegally, down from 6.9 million in 2007. In another first, the Border Patrol arrested more non-Mexicans than Mexicans in the 2014 fiscal year, as more Central Americans came to the U.S., mostly through South Texas, and many of them turned themselves in to authorities.

The authors analyzed U.S. and Mexican census data and a 2014 survey by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography. The Mexican questionnaire asked about residential history, and found that 61 percent of those who reported living in the U.S. in 2009 but were back in Mexico last year had returned to join or start a family. An additional 14 percent had been deported, and 6 percent said they returned for jobs in Mexico.
The number of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States is down by 1.3 million since 2007 (about 20%), while the number of Mexicans living in the United States in compliance with immigration laws has increased by about 200,000 over that time period (about 3.3%).  A majority (albeit a narrow one) of Mexicans living in the United States have a legal immigration status.

The collapse of the housing market in the financial crisis, NAFTA fueled manufacturing jobs in Mexico, and an aging population in Mexico that has reduced the number of people young enough to consider migrating while reducing competition for jobs there have been tagged as possible causes of the shift. The 2007 peak followed a steady increase in the Mexican population of the United States from 1965 until then.

The fact that back migration to Mexico has continued in earnest despite a recovering U.S. economy, a resurgent construction market, and continuing drug wars with cartels that have given some Mexican states the highest murder rates in the world, is particularly notable.

While the conventional economic explanations can tell part of this story, the fact that all of the net outmigration of Mexicans in the United States is attributable to undocumented immigrants and the fact that this is continuing even as the economy recovers, suggests that measures targeted at employers of undocumented immigrants may be having a big effect as well.

The Politics of Immigration

President Obama has been canned by critics as soft on immigration, for example, for adopting regulatory policies that intentionally ignore the immigration status of Generation 1.5 "Dreamers" (who were born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S.) and otherwise law abiding individuals with long standing ties to the U.S., for trying to allow more refugees to come to the U.S., and for adopting policies that have arguably encouraged unaccompanied Central American minors to come to the U.S. as refugees.

But, this is not the whole story.  President Obama has deported more people for immigration violations than any of his predecessors, has prosecuted immigration violations criminally at high rates, has presided over a major decline in the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S., and has let remarkably few refugees from hot spots like Syria into the country.

The Obama administration has been particularly diligent, compared to its predecessors, at deporting legal and illegal immigrants convicted of non-immigration crimes, thereby transferring recidivism risks posed by those criminals when they are released to the country of origin of those immigrants.

It may be that despite harsh rhetoric from GOP immigration critics, that ultimately the power brokers in the Republican party really favor a system that is symbolically harsh, but still allows the business interests that they are beholden to to benefit from the undocumented labor force, for example, by not enforcing immigration laws targeted at employers very effectively.  Ultimately, the GOP is the party that doesn't believe in government and as a result, Republicans aren't good at or interested in making government work, while Democrats, who believe in government, are better at managing it well.

Also, for Republicans, immigration is an issue upon which their party is divided.

The conservative Southern and blue collar white Republican base is opposed to almost all immigration, legal and illegal alike.  This is based mostly on some plausible assumptions about the impact of immigration, even though many of these are incorrect.

* They are particularly wary of less skilled Latin American immigrants because they feel that those immigrants are taking jobs from white blue collar men whose employment prospects (i.e. wages and unemployment rates) have been stagnant or gotten worse in a period of time that overlaps pretty neatly with the rise in Mexican immigration and when white and pink collar America whose industries haven't faced nearly as much immigration pressure has prospered.

There are holes in this story.  The natural experiment of the mass migration of Cubans to Florida had almost no negative employment impacts on the local economy.  Other empirical studies have likewise been hard pressed to see the Econ 101 expectation of negative impacts on blue collar men materialize to the extent expected.  My intuition is that the studies still understate the economic impact on this demographic which has been gradual rather than punctuated.  But, it isn't as if native born Americans are eagerly snapping up the often very low skill jobs as migrant farm workers, unskilled construction workers, maids and short order cooks.

Off shoring, automation, and the demise of private sector unionization are also important factors in blue collar wage stagnation.

* They are worried about an immigrant drain on public funds even though this is demonstrably false.

* They are worried about the cultural impact that immigrants have on what they perceive as their own threatened culture.  There is genuine merit to this claim.

* They are worried about crime by immigrants which is also demonstrably false even though it is plausible that lots of low income people moving in who have broken the law to do so would commit crimes at high rates.

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