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April 30, 2009

Unemployment rate for Immigrant labor, 1st Qtr 2009

The Center for Immigration Studies has reported that the unemployment rate among immigrants is soaring. For those without a high school diploma, the rate in the first quarter of 2009 was 19.5%, a jump of 7.9% from 3rd qtr 2007. Overall the immigrant unemployment rate was 9.7%, compared to 8.6% among native Americans.

A summary of the report, “Trends in Immigrant and Native Employment” --

Immigrant unemployment in the first quarter of 2009 was 9.7 percent, the highest level since 1994, when data began to be collected for immigrants. The current figure for natives is 8.6 percent, also the highest since 1994.

The immigrant unemployment rate is now 5.6 percentage points higher than in the third quarter of 2007, before the recession began. Native unemployment has increased 3.8 percentage points over the same period.

Among immigrants who have arrived since the beginning of 2006 unemployment is 13.3 percent.

The number of unemployed immigrants increased 1.3 million (130 percent) since the third quarter of 2007. Among natives the increase was five million (81percent).
The number of immigrants holding a job dropped 2.1 million (9 percent) from the third quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of this year. For natives, the drop was 4.5 million (4 percent).

There is no way to know if the current trend will continue. But these high unemployment rates for immigrants and natives raise the question of whether it makes sense to continue admitting so many new immigrants. In FY 2008, some 1.45 million new immigrants (temporary and permanent) were given work authorization.

From 1994 until a few years ago immigrants consistently had higher unemployment than natives, though the rates tended to converge over time. By 2005 natives consistently had higher unemployment rates.

In the second half of 2007 and into 2008 unemployment began to rise slightly faster for immigrants than for natives. By the first quarter of this year, immigrants had higher unemployment than natives.

Unemployment has risen faster among the least-educated immigrants. The unemployment rate for immigrants without a high school diploma has increased 9.9 percentage points since the third quarter of 2007, reaching 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009. For natives without a high school diploma it increased 7.9 percentage points, reaching 19.5 percent during the same period.

The unemployment rate for immigrants with at least a college degree has increased 3.7 percentage points since the third quarter of 2007, reaching 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009. For natives it increased 1.5 percentage points to 4.0 percent.

There is little evidence of a labor shortage, particularly for less-educated workers. There are now almost 31 million natives and immigrants with a high school degree or less who are unemployed or not in the labor force. (Persons not in the labor force are those between 18-65 who are neither working nor looking for work.)

Even before the recession began, unemployment for less-educated natives was very high. In the third quarter of 2007 unemployment was 11.6 percent for natives without a high school diploma and 10.6 percent for those (18 to 29) with only a high school diploma.
The states with the largest decline in immigrant employment are Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Virginia, and California. Native-born job losses also have been significant in most of these states.

A major reason for the more rapid increase in immigrant unemployment is that they tend to be employed in occupations hit hard by the recession. However, the larger increase in unemployment for educated immigrants is harder to explain.

April 23, 2009

Latest Pew Hispanic Center report on illegal immigrants, April 2009

The Pew Hispanic Center has issued "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States," which includes population and labor force estimates for each state, as well as national-level findings about families, education, income and other key indicators. Some key findings: the rapid growth of the unauthorized immigrant labor force from 1990 to 2006 has halted. There were 8.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force in March 2008, accounting for 5.4% of the work force. The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born residents. More than half of adult unauthorized immigrants (59%) had no health insurance during all of 2007.

Entire report summary:

The report finds that unauthorized immigrants are more geographically dispersed than in the past. A group of 28 high-growth states in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Mountain and Southeast regions are now home to 32% of the unauthorized population, more than double their 14% share in 1990. California's share declined to 22% from 42% during this same period.

Unauthorized immigrants are more likely than either U.S.-born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children, according to the report. A growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrants (73%) are U.S. citizens by birth. The U.S.-born and foreign-born children of unauthorized immigrants make up an estimated 6.8% of the nation's students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.

Looking at undocumented workers, the report finds that the rapid growth of the unauthorized immigrant labor force from 1990 to 2006 has halted. The new report estimates there were 8.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force in March 2008, accounting for 5.4% of the work force. The 2008 labor force estimate appears slightly lower than the 2007 estimate, but the change is within the margin of error.

The unauthorized immigrant share of the labor force varies widely by state. Undocumented immigrant workers constitute roughly 10% or more of the labor force in Arizona, California and Nevada, but less than 2.5% in most Midwest and Plains states.

About three-quarters (76%) of the nation's unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic. As the Pew Hispanic Center has previously reported, 59% are from Mexico.

The new report builds on a Pew Hispanic Center analysis released last year, which estimated there were 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2008. That report said the size of the unauthorized population appears to have declined since 2007, but the difference is not statistically significant. Both reports are based on an analysis of data from the March Current Population Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, and on the 1990 and 2000 Censuses.

Other major findings:

Adult unauthorized immigrants are disproportionately likely to be poorly educated. Among unauthorized immigrants ages 25-64, 47% have less than a high school education. By contrast, only 8% of U.S.-born residents ages 25-64 have not graduated from high school.

An analysis of college attendance finds that among unauthorized immigrants ages 18 to 24 who have graduated from high school, half (49%)are in college or have attended college. The comparable figure for U.S.-born residents is 71%.

The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born residents. In contrast to other immigrants, undocumented immigrants do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.

A third of the children of unauthorized immigrants and a fifth of adult unauthorized immigrants lives in poverty. This is nearly double the poverty rate for children of U.S.-born parents (18%) or for U.S.-born adults (10%).

More than half of adult unauthorized immigrants (59%) had no health insurance during all of 2007. Among their children, nearly half of those who are unauthorized immigrants (45%) were uninsured and 25% of those who were born in the U.S. were uninsured.

April 21, 2009

Made in L.A.: the immigrant documentary

Winning an Emmy in 2008, “Made in L.A.” is a film for this hour, when immigration reform is being talked about seriously for the first time since the 2007 Congressional debacle over a reform package. Go here to learn more about the 70 minute film, including how to order it. The producers of the film are urging people to view it between April 15 and May 31.

This is how the producers summarize the film: “Made in L.A. follows the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from a trendy clothing retailer. In intimate verite style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman’s life as they are gradually transformed by the experience.”


Made in L.A. is an Emmy award-winning feature documentary (70 min) that follows the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from trendy clothing retailer Forever 21. In intimate observational style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman’s life as they are gradually transformed by the experience. Compelling, humorous, deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity, and the courage it takes to find your voice.

Lupe Hernandez, a five-foot tall dynamo who learned survival skills at an early age, has been working in Los Angeles garment factories for over 15 years since she left Mexico City at age 17. Maura Colorado left her three children in the care of relatives in El Salvador while she sought work in L.A. to support them. She found that the low-paid work came with a high price - wretched conditions in the factories and an "undocumented" status that deprived her of seeing her children for over eighteen years. María Pineda came to Southern California from Mexico in hopes of a better life at 18, with an equally young husband. Twenty three years later, substandard working conditions, a meager salary and domestic abuse have left her struggling for her children's future and for her own human dignity.

These three women, along with other immigrant workers, come together at L.A.'s Garment Worker Center to take a stand for their rights. Against all odds, these seemingly defenseless workers launch a very public challenge (a lawsuit and a boycott) to one of the city's flagship clothiers, calling attention to the dark side of low-wage labor north of the U.S.-Mexico border and revealing the social fault lines of the new globalization.

As seen through the eyes of María, Maura, and Lupe, the workers' struggle for basic economic justice and personal dignity yields hope and growth, but it is also fraught with disappointments and dangers. As the campaign drags on through three long years, meetings at the Garment Worker Center become more contentious and the women undergo dramatic moments of conflict and discouragement. But then the story takes a surprising turn, and the three women find the strength and resources to continue their struggle.

For Lupe, Maura and María, the long campaign is a turning point from victimization to empowerment, and each makes life-changing decisions that they never could have envisioned. Overlooking the city of Hong Kong, where she has traveled after she's hired as an organizer, Lupe reflects on her journey: The more I learn, the lonelier I feel. Ignorance somehow protects you. But then I say, I've come this far, and nothing can take that away from me.

April 15, 2009

Mexican immigrants in the U.S.: a profile of a huge presence

The Pew Hispanic Center published an analysis of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Mexicans make up the largest share (32%) of all nationalities among immigrant roles. They comprise 5.7 legal and 7.0 illegal immigrants. In 1970, 1.4% of Mexico’s population lived in the U.S. Today 11% do. I have data elsewhere reporting that one out of six adult male Mexicans live in the U.S. The report notes that in the 19th Century, Irish and then Germans, in different decades, made up about a third of all immigrants.

Here is a summary of the report:

The number of Mexicans living in the U.S. is very large from Mexico’s perspective, too. About 11% of everyone born in Mexico is currently living in the U.S. This large-scale
transfer of population has taken place fairly quickly in demographic terms. As of 1970, 760,000 Mexican immigrants, or 1.4% of Mexico’s population, lived in the U.S. And in 1960, Mexico ranked seventh as a source of immigrants to the U.S., behind Italy, Germany, Canada, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and Poland.

Large-scale settlement in the U.S. by Mexicans began in earnest in the 1970s. By 1980, Mexico had the largest foreign- born population here with 2.2 million, or more than twice the second-place country (Germany at 850,000). The number of Mexicans immigrants to the U.S. doubled from 1980 to 1990 and more than doubled from 1990 to 2000.

While the growth rate of the Mexican immigrant population has slowed considerably since 2006, the total number reached a record 12.7 million in 2008, or almost 17 times the number in 1970. Mexicans make up the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (7.0 million, or 59%) as well as the largest number of legal immigrants (5.7 million, or 21%).

The current Mexican share of all foreign born living in the U.S.— 32%—is the highest concentration of immigrants to the U.S. from a single country since the late 19th century. But it is not unprecedented. Irish immigrants represented a third or more of the immigrant population from 1850 to 1870. Germans were 26% to 30% of the foreign-born population from 1850 to 1900.

As a group, Mexican immigrants are younger than either other immigrants or the
U.S.-born population. A higher percentage of them are male than either of the other group, and they are more likely to be married. They are less likely to be U.S. citizens than other immigrants, in part because they are more likely to be unauthorized. Mexicans have lower levels of education, lower incomes, larger households and higher poverty rates than other groups (Tables 1-2). They are slightly more likely to be in the labor force, where they are more likely to work in lower-skilled occupations; they currently have a higher unemployment rate than other immigrants or U.S.-born workers (Table 3).

Unions are supporting immigration reform

The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federation (SIEU and six other unions) threw their support behind legalization of the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants and the creation of a panel to analyze the labor market's needs. But business may oppose the creation of a panel to oversee temporary work visa programs, which the unions want in order to control year by year the influx of temporary workers.

From the LA Times:

By Anna Gorman
April 15, 2009

The nation's top two labor federations announced a framework Tuesday for comprehensive immigration reform, setting aside differences with the hope of pushing legislation through this year.

The agreement, supported by the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federation, supports the legalization of the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants and the formation of an independent commission to analyze the labor market's needs and assess shortages for the admission of future foreign workers. The unions oppose any new guest worker programs that would allow employers to bring foreigners in on a temporary basis.

"Today's unified agreement by the labor movement is a major step forward to pass immigration reform," Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said during a phone news conference. "We believe that the time is right for finally reforming our immigration system."

The labor unions, however, will probably face opposition from business groups.

Randel Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said he was suspicious about a commission that could become politicized and concerned that businesses would not be able to get the employees they needed without temporary worker programs. Without the backing of business, he said, immigration reform won't pass.

The unions "do need our support," said Johnson, the chamber's vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits. "They know the reality, and they are pretending it doesn't exist."

President Obama says he intends to pursue immigration reform, even though the country is in a recession that could make it harder for legislation to pass.

An immigration bill failed in the Senate in 2007. The unions were divided on the best approach at the time.

"We've found in the past division hasn't helped any of us," said Ana Avendano, director of the Immigrant Worker Program at the AFL-CIO. "What division has done in the past is really fueled both anti-immigrant hatred and helped business to move an agenda that really only benefited corporations."

Labor leaders said they planned to begin meeting with members of Congress to market their proposal. They also said they intended to work with community groups, churches and civil rights groups.

Immigrant rights groups also plan to hold news conferences, town hall meetings and hearings across the nation to mobilize support for reform and to highlight what they say is the harm caused by a lack of legislation.

"We will do whatever it takes, whatever is necessary, to really encourage our legislators and encourage the people of the United States to really support this position," said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers.

The unions support the creation of a worker verification program that would determine whether employees are authorized to work in the U.S., while preventing discrimination and providing privacy protections.

In addition, the unions included border security as a tenant of their plan but wrote in the agreement that enforcement should not be the responsibility of local law enforcement and should focus on "criminal elements.

April 10, 2009

Will Obama push immigration reform?

So it would appear from a NY Times article which cites an unnamed administration official. But I’m not so sure. I expect we will see no serious action until healthcare reform is agreed to, and that can take two years.

The article in full:

Obama to Push Immigration Bill as One Priority

Published: April 8, 2009

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
Skip to next paragraph

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.

Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs.

Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.

Debate is still under way among administration officials about the precise timing and strategy. For example, it is unclear who will take up the Obama initiative in Congress.

No serious legislative talks on the issue are expected until after some of Mr. Obama’s other priorities have been debated, Congressional aides said.

Just last month, Mr. Obama openly recognized that immigration is a potential minefield.

"I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” he told an audience at a town meeting on March 18 in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."

But, he said, immigrants who are long-time residents but lack legal status “have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.”

The White House is calculating that public support for fixing the immigration system, which is widely acknowledged to be broken, will outweigh opposition from voters who argue that immigrants take jobs from Americans. A groundswell among voters opposed to legal status for illegal immigrants led to the defeat in 2007 of a bipartisan immigration bill that was strongly supported by President George W. Bush.

Administration officials said that Mr. Obama’s plan would not add new workers to the American work force, but that it would recognize millions of illegal immigrants who have already been working here. Despite the deep recession, there is no evidence of any wholesale exodus of illegal immigrant workers, independent studies of census data show.

Opponents of legalization legislation were incredulous at the idea that Mr. Obama would take on immigration when economic pain for Americans is so widespread.

“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.

“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.

In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers.

But administration officials emphasized that many details remained to be debated.

Opponents of a legalization effort said that if the Obama administration maintained the enforcement pressure initiated by Mr. Bush, the recession would force many illegal immigrants to return home. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it would be “politically disastrous” for Mr. Obama to begin an immigration initiative at this time.

Anticipating opposition, Mr. Obama has sought to shift some of the political burden to advocates for immigrants, by encouraging them to build support among voters for when his proposal goes to Congress.

That is why Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Mr. Obama’s hometown, Chicago, has been on the road most weekends since last December, traveling far outside his district to meetings in Hispanic churches, hoping to generate something like a civil rights movement in favor of broad immigration legislation.

Mr. Gutierrez was in Philadelphia on Saturday at the Iglesia Internacional, a big Hispanic evangelical church in a former warehouse, the 17th meeting in a tour that has included cities as far flung as Providence, R.I.; Atlanta; Miami; and San Francisco. Greeted with cheers and amens by a full house of about 350 people, Mr. Gutierrez, shifting fluidly between Spanish and English, called for immigration policies to preserve family unity, the strategic theme of his campaign.

At each meeting, speakers from the community, mainly citizens, tell stories of loved ones who were deported or of delays and setbacks in the immigration system. Illegal immigrants have not been invited to speak.

Mr. Gutierrez’s meetings have all been held in churches, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, with clergy members from various denominations, including in several places Muslim imams. At one meeting in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, officiated.

One speaker on Saturday, Jill Flores, said that her husband, Felix, an immigrant from Mexico who crossed the border illegally, had applied for legal status five years ago but had not been able to gain it even though she is an American citizen, as are their two children. Now, Ms. Flores said, she fears that her husband will have to leave for Mexico and will not be permitted to return for many years.

In an interview, Mr. Gutierrez rejected the idea that the timing is bad for an immigration debate. “There is never a wrong time for us,” he said. “Families are being divided and destroyed, and they need help now.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

April 7, 2009

Farm worker rights: time to set right?

A large number of farm workers in American are immigrants. (The Agjobs program, part of the discarded immigration reform effort of 2007, was to address immigrant farm workers mainly in California.) I have read that over half of farm workers in California are illegal immigrants. An editorial in the New York Times addresses the gap in labor protections for these workers – a gap which has been there since the 1930s, when federal labor protections were created. In my field of workers compensation, many states still do not have their workers comp systems cover farm workers.

The editorial:

Farm Workers’ Rights, 70 Years Overdue
Published: April 5, 2009

It is more than bank failures and rising unemployment that give these troubled times echoes of the 1930s. An unfinished labor battle from the New Deal is being waged again.

The goal is to win basic rights that farm and domestic workers were denied more than 70 years ago, when the Roosevelt administration won major reforms protecting other workers in areas like overtime and disability pay, days of rest and union organizing.

That inequality is a perverse holdover from the Jim Crow era. Segregationist Southern Democrats in Congress could not abide giving African-Americans, who then made up most of the farm and domestic labor force, an equal footing in the workplace with whites. President Roosevelt’s compromise simply wrote workers in those industries out of the New Deal.

They were thus sidelined from the labor movement, with predictable results. Though the Dixiecrats have all long since died or repented, the injustice they spawned has never been corrected. Poverty, brutal working conditions and legally sanctioned discrimination persist for new generations of laborers, who are now mostly Latino immigrants.

In New York, advocates are pressing for passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would give these workers the rights that others have long taken for granted, as well as seek badly needed improvements in safety and sanitary conditions in the fields. Domestic workers, meanwhile, are seeking a “Bill of Rights” in Albany covering things like overtime pay, cost-of-living raises and health benefits.

A separate effort begun last week seeks to end these stubbornly lingering injustices for workers in all states by fixing federal law. It was announced on Cesar Chavez’s birthday by old lions of his movement, including Jerry Cohen, who as general counsel of the United Farm Workers helped win passage of a landmark 1975 California law that secured unprecedented rights for the state’s farm workers. The campaign has been joined by a growing number of labor groups and immigrant advocates, like Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which represents migrant workers in the Midwest and North Carolina.

In both campaigns, advocates are counting on a changed political landscape to help their cause. But even with Democrats controlling the New York Legislature, the farm worker bill has languished. It faces fierce opposition from growers and has been eclipsed by the entropy and fiscal crises of Gov. David Paterson’s Albany. In Washington, labor advocates are preoccupied by different battles, like the fight for the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act. Other long-sought immigration reforms have taken a back seat to the budget and health care.

But farm workers are used to long, hard slogs and pitiless heat and cold, with justice as their distant but inevitable destination. The advocates see President Obama and Governor Paterson as ideal candidates to take them there, and are not about to give up. “Any just national labor law reform must include farm workers and domestics,” Mr. Cohen wrote to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, stating an obvious and compelling truth. “If not now, when?”