Study: D.C. Focus on Immigrants Obscures Economic Pain Among Unskilled Americans


The political establishment has not focused on the large-scale retreat from work by millions of prime-age American men, even though they exacerbated the problem by importing millions of lower-skilled immigrants, says a new study.

“Regardless of the extent to which immigration has caused the decline of work in lower-class American community ties, immigration functions as a band-aid over the [policy] problem,” says author and analyst Dr. Jason Richwine. “Instead of searching for ways to get [American] natives back to work — through higher wages, less access to welfare, or social pressure — government and business leaders have brought in immigrants to do the work instead,” he says.

From 1994 t0 2015, there was a sharp rise in the percentage of high-school dropouts aged 25 to 54 who gave up looking for work,  says the study published Tuesday by the non-partisan Centers for Immigration Studies.

The share of high-school dropouts outside the workforce rose from one-in-four to one-in-three, even as the share of similar uneducated immigrants outside the workforce actually fell from one-in-eight down to one-in-twelve.

Nationwide, American high school dropouts worked an average equivalent of 41 full-time weeks per year during the 2003 to 2005 period, but only 32 weeks per year from 2012 to 2015. That’s nine weeks less each year. In contrast, foreign-born workers without high-school qualifications saw their hours barely decline from 52 weeks to 50 full-time weeks during the same period.

The native-born dropouts’ share of non-high-school labor also decreased from 50 percent of the national total during the 2003 to 2005 period, down to only 40 percent from 2012 to 2015 as more migrants flooded in to compete for jobs.


“Limiting immigration would not solve all the problems facing low-skill natives, but it would provide the incentive to get them back to work and back into the mainstream of society,” Richwine wrote.

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that immigrants replace natives in the workforce,” he wrote. “However, note the careful choice of the word replace,” he writes. “The results presented in this study do not prove that immigrants push out (or displace) natives. Competition from immigrants is just one of many potential explanations for declining work among low-skill natives. Progressives tend to blame the loss of good-paying union jobs, for example, while conservatives focus more on the expansion of the welfare state and weakened social sanctions against idleness.”

“Some may conclude that native-born men are hopelessly lazy, and that more immigrants are therefore needed to keep labor-intensive industries going. That is the view of advocates who promote immigrant labor for ‘jobs that Americans won’t do,'” the study concludes. “Those advocates have abandoned the idea that idle Americans can be brought back into the mainstream of society, yet it was only 50 years ago that virtually all prime-age men worked. Immigration restriction alone may not solve the problems endemic to the American underclass, but it restores the incentive to help.”

Dismissing the problem and casting aside native-born dropouts worsens the breakdown of families and communities, other experts warn.

“The male retreat from the labor force has exacerbated family breakdown, promoted welfare dependence and recast ‘disability’ into a viable alternative lifestyle. Among these men the death of work seems to mean also the death of civic engagement, community participation and voluntary association,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt writes in the Wall Street Journal:

In short, the American male’s postwar flight from work is a grave social ill. Strangely, nearly everyone—the news media, major political parties, intellectuals, business leaders, policy makers—has managed to overlook it.

President Barack Obama’s top economic advisor recognizes the problem, even though the administration has done little or nothing to help. “This [dropout] is caused by policies and institutions, not by technology,” admitted Jason Furman, an economist who chairs the president’s Council of Economic Advisors. “We shouldn’t accept it as inevitable,” he told a Brookings Institute expert, Dave Wessel, on  August 10.

In some sense [this drop-off in work by unskilled men] is bigger than the difference between a recession and a boom, and the impact it has, the evidence is very clear that … when you’re talking about someone who is not married, who has less than a high-school degree, there’s a good chance that [unemployment] is not a choice, and it is associated with depression, with drug use, with suicide, with a range of bad outcomes for people.

A record 25,851,000 foreign-born migrants held jobs in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Seventy-two percent of whites, 66 percent of blacks, and 59 percent of Hispanics want to “restrict and control” immigration, according to Pew Research.