The Washington Times misled its readers by claiming that African-American workers would see fewer jobs and lower pay if immigration reform were to pass. Despite the assertions made in the piece, immigrant labor does not steal jobs from American workers -- specifically African-American workers -- and often has a net positive impact on the economy by creating more jobs.
A February 12 article in The Washington Times cited two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who wrote to President Obama claiming that successful immigration reform would “likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans” but failed to push back on their unfounded claims. From the article:
Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to President Obama on Tuesday telling him that if he succeeds in enacting an “effective amnesty” for illegal immigrants, it will likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans.
Pointing to hearings the commission held in 2008, the two members -- Peter Kirsanow and Abigail Thernstrom -- said the economics of the situation are clear: Low-skilled blacks compete with low-skilled illegal immigrants, depressing wages.
In fact, overwhelming evidence shows that immigration's negative effect on African-American employment is an unfounded myth. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute called the idea that low-skilled immigrants take African-American jobs a “pernicious myth” and cited a 1997 report that found no evidence that African-Americans have fewer job opportunities because of immigration.
Another study by Robert Paral & Associates for the Immigration Policy Center found similar results. From the Immigration Policy Center:
One of the most contentious issues in the debate over immigration reform is whether or not the presence of immigrants in the U.S. labor force -- especially undocumented immigrants -- has a major adverse impact on the employment prospects of African Americans. The African American community has long been plagued by high unemployment rates, and a relatively large share of African Americans lack a college education. As a result, some commentators argue that undocumented immigrants, who tend to have low levels of formal education and to work in less skilled occupations, are “taking” large numbers of jobs that might otherwise be filled by African American workers.
If this is indeed the case, one would except to find high unemployment rates among African Americans in locales with large numbers of immigrants in the labor force -- especially immigrants who are relatively recent arrivals to the United States and willing to work for lower wages than most African Americans. However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that this is not the case. In fact, there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates among African Americans, or any other native born racial/ethnic group, at the state or metropolitan level.
Gerald D. Jaynes, professor of Economics and African-American Studies at Yale University, who once believed that immigration played a role in the declining African-American workforce, launched a large-scale study that concluded that “declining black unemployment is due more to other factors and events that have been restructuring our nation's labor market during the past several decades,” including the elimination of many factory jobs and other blue-collar employment.
Immigrants and other low-wage workers often fill different types of jobs which require different skills. However, when they do work in the same job type, immigrants and other workers often specialize in different aspects of the job, complementing each other rather than competing with one another.
Take the case in Georgia, where a harsh immigration law forced out many of the state's farm workers, which left approximately 11,000 open farm jobs. Despite the open jobs, however, so few people applied that Gov. Nathan Deal pushed farmers to hire 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers, many of whom walked off the job soon after starting.
Wages for native-born workers also, in general, tend to increase as a result of immigration. According to an Economic Policy Institute estimate, native born African-American males experienced an average wage increase of 0.4 percent from 1994 to 1997. Native-born men with less than a high-school education were the only group to see a decrease in wages by 0.2 percent.
In reality, immigration reform would be a huge benefit to the economy. It could add billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the economy, as well as potentially $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional tax revenues.
This false claim about immigrant labor hurting African-Americans isn't new. Breitbart.com's Seaton Motley used this myth to attack President Obama's deferred action plan. The anti-immigrant nativist organization, NumbersUSA, ran ads hyping this myth during the run up to last year's referendum on the Maryland DREAM Act in an attempt to cause the measure's failure. But this effort backfired -- instead, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for the measure.