–Rick Santorum, speech at Iowa Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015
“We’re bringing people in who will compete against a lot of American workers. In fact, since 2000, the number of native-born Americans working in the workplace has gone down. There are fewer Americans working today who were born in America than there were 15 years ago.”
–Rick Santorum, CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jan. 25, 2015
Santorum engaged the crowd in a “quiz” during his speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend, where many potential 2016 presidential candidates tested out their stump speeches with Iowa supporters. When Santorum cited these figures at the summit, some in the crowd responded: “Wow.” The next day, he repeated the claim with a focus on the purported decrease in native workers since 2000.
Is it correct that 6 million net new jobs went to immigrants and that there are fewer native-born Americans working today than in 2000?
Santorum cites a report on immigrant and native-born employment growth by the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictive immigration laws. Researchers studied Bureau of Labor Statistics employment and labor market figures from first quarter 2000 through first quarter 2014. The figures match up with monthly BLS breakdowns available online.
In his Iowa speech, Santorum connected these statistics to the need for curbing illegal immigration. But the BLS data on immigrants includes legally-admitted immigrants, undocumented immigrants, student and temporary workers, and refugees.
The numbers appear to check out at first glance.
The report found 127,000 fewer working-age, native-born Americans were employed in 2014 than in 2000, even though the working-age population grew by 16.8 million during that time. In comparison, there were 5.7 million more immigrants with a job in 2014 than in 2000, and the working-age immigrant population grew by 8.8 million. That is where the 5.7 million “net new jobs” figure comes from, which Santorum rounded up to 6 million in his speech.
More than 17 million immigrants have arrived in the country since 2000, the report said. Virginia Davis, Santorum’s spokesperson at Patriot Voices, said the 17 million figure in his speech referred to this point, though it is unclear what point he was making with this figure in the speech.
But the key word in Santorum’s speech is “net.” The actual number of native-born workers with jobs increased steadily from 2000 through 2007. Then, as the recession hit, the numbers started dropping again, back to circa-2000 levels. The number of immigrants with jobs, in comparison, grew steadily through the recession.
In addition, native-born Americans fared better in employment growth since the jobs recovery in 2010: 43 percent of employment growth since then went to immigrants, and the rest to native-born workers.
Santorum’s claim that the number of native-born workers has gone down since 2000 is on shaky ground. The report he quotes calculated a range of workers from 16 to 65 years old, which does not include the growing number of Americans working beyond age 65. The more comprehensive number, which is the range used by BLS, is workers 16 and older (with no age cap). There were 2.6 million more native-born Americans 16 and older in 2014 than in 2000, which contradicts Santorum’s claim.
The report mentions this difference in a footnote: “Comparing the first quarter of 2000 to the same quarter in 2014 for the working-age shows that all of the employment growth has gone to immigrants. However, looking at all workers 16-plus shows that natives over age 65 did make employment gains. … Thus natives did make some employment gains, but it was entirely among those over age 65.”
This is an important distinction because it is unique to the native worker population. For immigrant workers, there are about 810,000 more workers in 2014 than in 2000 than in the 16-65 range. The increase in older workers does not affect the immigrant worker population nearly as much as it does the non-immigrant population.
The breakdown of the number of age 65+ workers is not available in the report for 2000 to 2014. But the trend of an increasingly older native workforce is evident when looking at the labor participation breakdown of natives 60-65 years old. In 2000, the labor force participation was at 44 percent. In 2014, it was 53 percent. This was the only age group that saw an increase in this rate.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, noted the numbers changed based on the year selected. If you picked 2010 as the starting year, there were 4.4 million more U.S.-born workers who are 16 or older in 2014 than in 2010. When 2007 is the starting year, the number changes again: There were 1.5 million fewer native-born workers in 2014 than in 2007.
The foreign-born population grew disproportionately as a share of the labor force, compared to their growth as a share of the general population, according to the Brookings Institution. It is also important to keep in mind the proportion of immigrant workers to the U.S. labor force: BLS data show the 25.3 million immigrant workers in 2013 comprised 16.3 percent of the total work force. While it is not possible to accurately quantify undocumented immigrants, the Pew Research Center‘s most recent estimates show 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants were working or looking for work in 2012. In addition, the number of unauthorized immigrants has decreased since it peaked in 2007.
Santorum implies that native jobs are shrinking at the expense of immigrant jobs. But that is an oversimplification, if not incorrect, said Harry Holzer, economist and professor of public policy at Georgetown University. Low-skilled, low-wage jobs in industries dominated by immigrants took a bigger hit at the beginning of the recession. But they also bounced back quicker, as employers resisted committing to higher-wage employees until they saw the recovery was going to last, Holzer said. Broader-based recovery has helped native-born workers, he said.
Immigrants add competition in some industries, such as residential construction, and among the younger population (ages 16 to 19) who are working part-time or summer jobs. But there is less competition in the higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs that require higher education. Most of the fastest-growing industries with rapid immigrant worker growth are low-skilled, such as iron and rebar workers, pipelayers and home health aides, the Brookings report shows.
“This notion of a fixed block of jobs just isn’t how the economy works,” Holzer said.
Santorum, via his spokesperson, did not respond to further queries regarding the data.
The Pinocchio Test
Santorum said that all 6 million net new jobs went to immigrants and that there are fewer native-born workers since 2000. That sounds “wow”-worthy. He correctly uses the numbers from the Center for Immigration Studies’ report. But the figures he cites do not tell the full story, especially the number of Americans working in 2014 compared to 2000.
There has been job growth in the native-worker population; from 2010, that population has seen more growth than the immigrant population. So using the net new jobs figure is misleading. The number of native-born workers Santorum cites does not include the growing number of older Americans who are retiring later. When using the more comprehensive age range of workers “16 and older,” there are 2.6 million more native workers in 2014 than in 2000. This is a far different picture than Santorum paints. As we have said before, it is the responsibility of the speaker to check out the methodology and caveats before citing a study — especially if the figure is repeated to large audiences over two consecutive days.
Lastly, to connect this trend in jobs entirely to illegal immigration is an an exaggeration; the BLS data includes legally-accepted immigrants, undocumented immigrants, refugees and temporary workers. Santorum earns Three Pinocchios.
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