Immigration fact of the day

From Dan Griswold, via Bryan Caplan:

The typical foreign-born adult resident of the United States today is more likely to participate in the work force than the typical native-born American. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2011), the labor-force participation rate of the foreign-born in 2010 was 67.9 percent, compared to the native-born rate of 64.1 percent. The gap was especially high among men. The labor-force participation rate of foreign-born men in 2010 was 80.1 percent, a full 10 percentage points higher than the rate among native-born men.

Labor-force participation rates were highest of all among unauthorized male immigrants in the United States. According to estimates by Jeffrey Passell (2006) of the Pew Hispanic Center, 94 percent of illegal immigrant men were in the labor force in the mid-2000s.


Is this just a function of demographics? Do native born Americans have a higher average age than foreign born residents? Wouldn't this always be the case if you had an increasing population of immigrants who enter the country at a working age?

Immigrants are older. Recently less so than in the past, but they're older.

Of course, that's not to say it isn't a function of demographics. But I'd not think they'd be duplicitous enough to count kids or young adults in education.

When calculating these percentages, is the denominator "all persons"? i.e. [ children + working age + geriatrics ]? Just wondering.

If so, I think it's more a demographic metric than an employment metric.

That was my first thought, too.

Who cares about the first generation illegals? Their children are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become criminals, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have kids out of wedlock, and more likely to make use of welfare than the average American. Did I miss something?

Opportunity and intent, perhaps?

Do you have any guesses as to why that is?

Genetics? Culture?

It occurs to me that undocumented (Mexican, at least) immigrants who are of retirement age can't collect social security or make use of medicare. If that's the case, and they're not going to be working anymore (people immigrate to jobs, etc.) then there's a significant financial incentive for them to "self-deport" (as it were) back to Mexico.

"94 percent of illegal immigrant men were in the labor force in the mid-2000s."

How do they know that?

86% of statistics are made up.

A sample survey?

Statistics like these aren't just meaningless, they are disingenuous, because the people who tout them know full well how meaningless they are.

so, the people working at the US Deparment of Labor are not only liers, they are ill-intentioned liers ;)

original report here:h ttp://

"Over the year (2010), the number of foreign-born labor force participants rose, while the number of native born in the labor force declined. (See table 1.)"

There's also a curious number in this table: "Unemployment rate for Bachelor's degree and higher" 2009: 4.3% 2010: 4.4% Universities may not be a great cost effective source of innovation and creativity (as stated many times on this blog) but they seem to be awesome for landing a job =)

A statistic doesn't have to be a "lie" to be meaningless.

re: university - correlation does not equal causation.

90% of the time this phrase is used, it's misused.

"“Unemployment rate for Bachelor’s degree and higher” 2009: 4.3% 2010: 4.4%"

"university – correlation does not equal causation."

Precisely. That's a group that's heavily subject to selection bias. It's likely that anyone with the intelligence and drive to obtain a degree is more likely to be employed regardless of the actual degree.

How surprising can this possibly be given that a decent percentage of immigrants are admitted for the express purpose of doing particular jobs and lose their right to be here if they lose those jobs? How much less surprising is it when you consider that many immigrants have no rights to welfare programs? (The word was foreign born "residents" not foreign born "citizens.")

Frankly, I'd say the fact that the discrepancy isn't much wider — in favor of immigrants being even more likely to be in the workforce — could be used as an argument against our current immigration system rather than the "immigrants are good" argument that Tyler is clearly making here.

Even if you want to be stupid and buy this as a way that immigrants are better behaved than natives — and there are some legitimate ways in which that's true, particularly when you compare unskilled immigrants against unskilled natives — it still wouldn't matter much. None of those things matter much.

How immigrants behave isn't utterly irrelevant, but it's way less relevant than how their grandkids behave. And study after study shows downward intergenerational mobility. Unskilled immigrants have even more unskilled grandkids who lose the immigrant work ethic, assimilate with the worst of American underclass culture and, in general, perform far worse than American norms, dragging down median incomes and forcing every larger transfers from the rest of us.

You mean like the son of a Kenian immigrant who - swoosh - in the next generation already became President?


Yes - brilliant - a data point of one!

Barack Obama is the son of a "Kenian immigrant".

Barack Obama is President.

Sons of "Kenian immigrants" become President.

Therefore, we should admit many more of them to the country so we can have millions of Presidents, just like Africa.

Seems like infallible reasoning to me.

He said "grandkids" so I assume he means that Malia and Sasha are never going to amount to anything.

Yes - let's arrange our entire immigration policy around the experience of the current POTUS and his family.

Restrict immigration because you think that Malia and Sasha are going to be on the dole? I think we need to give those two crazy kids a chance.

brilliant =)

Wow, you destroyed his whole argument with one example.

It is a lovely reply, but of course Barack Obama Senior was not am immigrant. He was a student.

When his visa was up, and his pathetic efforts at avoiding it ran out, he went back to Kenya.

He was thrown out for bigamy and academic ineptitude.

Shall we use this as evidence that subsequent immigrant generations do better?

Quite a jump from deported bigamist to leader of the free world, eh?

Rahul 1, Steve 0

Given his point was about the unskilled, your point is taken.

>>>study after study shows downward intergenerational mobility<<<

I think Scoop is using a ironically suicidal argument; unless his own blood is pure native American.

Naw, he's just another racist.

Point of info:

1. Foreign students are one of our ways of skimming the world's cream, and therefore they in a sense represent the policy opposite of illegal immigration.

Btw, politics isn't really a meritocracy, but on the other hand we were two heartbeats away from the nation's first sex-tape President.

Really, wholesale downward intergenerational mobility? So, all those waves of boat people -- from the Pilgrims on down -- produced subsequent generations of useless layabouts, each one worse than the one before it? If that's true, then America's progress since its first batch of immigrants has come entirely from each wave of the newly arrived, against the relentless drag of those born here. That the net effect has been positive is amazing, but one can't be too careful. Whenever growth slows down, let's kick out some of the native born, and bring in more foreigners. For best effect, people whose American ancestry runs longest should be kicked out first, of course.

"They steal our jobs!"

If you're quoting South Park it's "They took our jyahbs!"

Just saw that one again, brilliant.

If you work in construction or landscaping they certainly lower your take home pay.

“94 percent of illegal immigrant men were in the labor force in the mid-2000s.”

Another reason not to grant them the legal status.

Well played...

This is a "No shit, Sherlock" finding.

Here's a policy suggestion: open immigration for those who get vasectomies or hysterectomies. As has been mentioned very many times, it is among subsequent generations that the desire or the need to participate in the work force declines. Illegals participate in the work force because they self-selected for work here in the U.S.


You aren't allowed to think ahead. It's inappropriate.

A hysterectomy? Not even simply having their tubes tied? Wow!


I don't understand why any of this matters. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "It does me no injury if my neighbor has twenty jobs or no job. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my back."

There are basically two relevant anti-immigration arguments:

(1) "They out-compete me for stuff I don't want to work as hard for," which is basically rent-seeking.
(2) "They cost the welfare state a lot of money," which is basically an argument against the welfare state, not immigration.

When people realize that these things we call "borders" are nothing more than imaginary lines that separate millions of people like us from millions of other people like us then maybe we can have an intelligent conversation about immigration. Until then, the pro-immigration folks will keep apologizing for something that requires no apology, and the anti-immigration people will keep rehashing the same bat-wacky misanthropic arguments they have since the dawn of the state.

But they're not like us. They have their own cultures. And I'm not judging those cultures, but there will be an effect.

Everything has an effect. What's your point?

The point is that admitting millions of Mexicans into the US will inevtably make the US more like Mexico. How could it not?

What's funny about this line of reasoning is what you're leaving unsaid.

and the anti-immigration people will keep rehashing the same bat-wacky misanthropic arguments they have since the dawn of the state.

Ah, yes, the quality of the discourse among the commenters here at MR continues to impress.

Not as much as you impress me with your detailed response. I bow before your genius.

Sorry, ziel, I misread your comment.

How about the argument that open immigration will make the existing citizens of this country worse off?

That's an argument, but it's not true. Or rather if it were true it would be the first time in history that is so.

The native Americans might disagree with you on that.

Illegal immigration directly lowers the wage of un-educated Americans in manual labor. There have been significant wage declines in the building and landscaping industries in the last 15 years in the South East.

That's a group of citizens that may lose out. The statement that open borders is bad for the entire country is false.

I shou;d be more clear. I don't mean 'no borders' when I say 'open borders'. Immigration is on net a good thing, but like anything else there are limits. My point is under the current reality, the US benefits from being a destination country. I hope we stay that way.

Is there anything actually wrong with rent seeking? Suppose if we have a nation with a huge amount of oil, worth $1 billion per capita, wouldn't it be rational for the current voters of this nation to vote to ensure that the benefits from this oil would go to them and descendants?

For most people altruism has been a virtue not a vice; nothing wrong in spreading your $1 billion around a bit especially if every dollar you forgo means a lot more to the person receiving it than it hurts you.

Well, people tend to be at least somewhat selfish. Nearly all welfare spending in the US can probably do a lot more good in some other parts of the world, but it tends to be far more popular when it is spent in the US as opposed to out of it. It may or may not be ethical, but it is certainly human nature, and not "bat-wacky" as the comment above put it.

Are we talking irrational, or are we talking wrong?

Is making an argument from self interest an example of "same bat-wacky misanthropic arguments"?

Consider the self-interested arguments posed by a sociopath. Are those bat-wacky, or genuinely rational?

So yeah, when arguments are steeped in what amounts to bigotry, I'd call them bat-wacky, but hey that's just me...

Well, that's kinda how the Alaskan Permanent Fund works, except not $1 billion per person.

And the welfare state isn't going away, absent catastrophe, so you oppose their immigration, right? I know this is an economics blog, but you can't just assume it away.

Anyway, party is at Ryan's house. Don't let him try to stop you from coming on his property, borders are meaningless.

What is it about the immigration debate that makes otherwise reliably libertarian-leaning people completely forget the crucial distinction between individual and state interests? There is no similar amnesia whenever free trade is brought up.


Some (not even most I'd wager) libertarians are racists, pure and simple. Like Ron Paul.

As CH revealed below, it's not immigration per se they have a problem with. It's immigration of nonwhites. "Pre-1965" is ok.

question, snark guy. do you believe evolution stopped at the neck 40,000 years ago?

Answer, racist guy: yes, I do. 40K years isn't enough in Darwinian selection terms to make any changes to a species.

Also, how is that relevant to the discussion of whether we should ban immigration of people who look different than "circa 1965" immigrants.

why do you hate white people, bigot? what is your problem with a United States that is predominantly of European ancestry? why does that rub you raw?

Wow, CH. Are you a Klansman? White power and all?

What's your problem with Hispanics? They're European...from Spain, right?

I'm as pale as snow by the way.

"I’m as pale as snow by the way"

Now there's a shocker - our foremost authority on wonderfulness of importing more "brown people" is white hipster who never comes into contact with said brown people except at trendy ethic restaurants.

Answer, racist guy: yes, I do. 40K years isn’t enough in Darwinian selection terms to make any changes to a species.

This is the worst comment in the thread, to a large degree. 40k years is enough for speciation. We've had entire subspecies created in this country in the past 150 years. FFS, even/especially Gould would think you were insane writing that.

I don't know. you tell me. Why do you think we don't own our country while you own your house?

"When people realize that these things we call “borders” are nothing more than imaginary lines that separate millions of people like us from millions of other people like us then maybe we can have an intelligent conversation about immigration. Until then, the pro-immigration folks will keep apologizing for something that requires no apology, and the anti-immigration people will keep rehashing the same bat-wacky misanthropic arguments they have since the dawn of the state."

Maybe when people realise that property rights and money and ownership are merely imaginary lines and impediments to people being allowed to use whatever resources they make their life better!

Until then, I don't really see why the idea that a group of people and their children have the rights to a particular territory, to use the publicly funded institutions that operate within that territory and to work and live in that territory, well I don't see how those rights are particularly less legitimate than any other (inheritable) property and use rights.

(Why do Libertarian types see one of these set of rights - property rights - as legitimate and the other set of what are functionally a kind of property rights as illegitimate? That's a puzzler)

Free borders, when you think about it, is a lot like the historical process of enclosure - its taking away a package of publicly available use right to an area of land from a group of people in order to enrich a minority of owners who will then be able employ more people in their enterprises and extract more profit.

The difference is that in this case it is under the guise of making that right available to all, rather than under the guise that it must be granted to a select few can properly protect and profitably use. But of course, the net effect is to make more cheap labor available for capital.

An enclosure for an ostensibly anti-elitist age?

I wonder what would happen if you compared the native born of foreigners vs. the native born of natives? Let us not be short-sighted.

African Americans of Caribbean origin do much better than African Americans of ... well, American origin.

"But they’re not like us. They have their own cultures. And I’m not judging those cultures, but there will be an effect.". True. The cultural values of many immigrants are undemocratic and opposed to individual freedom. These immigrants hate American culture but still want American citizenship. In particular the Muslim immigrants

It's like my great, great, great, great, grandfather Cornelius Flaw said, "No more Papists."

We could do a survey of majority-Catholic regions with minority-Catholic regions and see where and what kinds of people are voting with their feet like, say, that majority-Catholic country south of the Rio Grande. I wonder what it would show?

That Mexican immigration has slowed considerably in recent years and may well cease on net.

Well, the Irish have been returning. It seems as if their undocumented status was becoming untenable after 2001, the Irish economy was becoming attractive during that period, and the appeal of universal health care, especially among Irish immigrants with children, was irresistible.

Of course, Ireland is just one Catholic majority country, and one of the broad conditions listed above is no longer true, but the Irish aren't likely to return due to the other two reasons.

The IHT article is no longer findable, but this extract is quite interesting (from a few years ago)-
'Not strictly a workplace issue, but a story in today's International Herald Tribune about an exodus of Irish immigrants from New York caught our eye.

That long-time illegal residents are returning to Ireland because their lives are being made impossible by the U.S. security crackdown is hardly surprising. But for others, this "complete reversal of the American dream" seems to have much to do with seeking a better quality of life and work-life balance.

. . . . Others, already naturalized citizens, say the price in toil for health care and education was too high, and hope for a less exhausting life in a prosperous Ireland.

Michael and Catroina Condon, both naturalized American citizens who spent 19 and 11 years in New York, respectively, say Ireland's brand of prosperity promises a better life for their children. After the birth of their first baby, they said, they rebelled against the toll of seven-day workweeks to pay rising costs in a sluggish American economy

"It's longer hours, less money, and a lot of the time you see people working for their wage just to pay their rent, to pay their health insurance," said Catroina Condon, 31, who was a corporate secretary before returning in September to the village of Mullingar in County Westmeath. Her husband, a carpenter, is starting his own business, and she envisions a wedding-planning enterprise.'

That was written in 2006. How have they been doing lately?

The Irish in Boston actually gave us a useful word for what can go wrong with immigration - the Curley effect.

James Michael Curley was the son of Irish immigrants who was four times Mayor of Boston, twice elected to Congress and once Governor of Massachusetts I think. Not sure. But his politics were simple - he did all he could to drive out the English-origin inhabitants of Boston who did not vote for him and replace them with Irish-origin voters who would. Handy if you're from Ireland and want to go to America. Less good if you happen to be of Scottish or English origin and own property in Boston. Since we have seen something like it in a lot of cities. Detroit is the usual comparison. Except there it is Black politicians driving out White inhabitants and so not really about immigration.

So here's a prediction - California will start to lose White inhabitants. They will be encouraged to leave. California's future is something like Detroit. Except in Spanish.

Pretty sure this is already happening in California.

This thread is truly awful.

What's Israel's immigration and citizenship policy? Alex seems to go there a lot and posts about what a great place it is. Maybe the US should follow Israel in that regard.

What’s Israel’s immigration and citizenship policy?Israel's immigration policy = allowing Jews en masse. Look up the Aliyah principle.

Maybe the US should follow Israel in that regard. We have more Jews than Israel does.

Stealing all our accounting jobs. Send em back to Israel! Even if they were from Europe!

And those Koreans stealing our bodega jobs! And those Chinese taking our dry cleaning jobs!

Out with all of em!

so your solution is in with all of them, i gather. yep, that's a recipe for social harmony.

Or at least "vibrancy".

It's the recipe for America, CH. If you don't like it go back to wherever your ancestors came from.

"It’s the recipe for America, CH."

circa 1965 immigration aka soft genocide act, yes. before then, no.

"If you don’t like it go back to wherever your ancestors came from."

you first.

Why should I leave? I like it here, including the current immigration policy. You're the one bitching.

Maybe your ancestors came from a place with nice closed borders, so it'll be far better than here. You'll love it!

Ha, so if you don't like current policies, you should just GTFO? Nice.

No, if you're a freaking racist you should GTFO. Or at least stop bitching about brown people. "Nice" indeed.

Alternatively, I'll let you stay if you go watch 'Gran Torino' and write a 5 page essay on why racism is bad.

Yeah, who cares about the interests of the current American citizenry? Let's all think about what's good for the brown people.

Immigration is good for the current American citizenry. Always has been.

You're talking about a study that takes the unemployment of low-skill American workers basically for granted, msgk. So please, tell me how those people are better off by being unemployed and mostly unemployable

Those people aren't going to be in good shape regardless of immigration. The US has been a destination country almost since its founding, and it has benefited mightily from that, and continues to do so. Like any other economic process, some benefit more than others, but on net immigration is a strong net positive for the nation.

If you managed to turn America's immigration experience into Japan's you'd be really sorry. Unless you hate America, which unlike with CH here I can't tell about you yet.

Wow...I need to practice my HTML some more.

What’s Israel’s immigration and citizenship policy? Israel’s immigration policy = allowing Jews en masse. Look up the Aliyah principle.

Maybe the US should follow Israel in that regard. We have more Jews than Israel does.

A lot depends on how you slice and dice the data. The relevant data tables from BLS at this link and especially Tables 1 and 3.

From what I can gather, a lot of the difference in labor force participation comes from the fact that the foreign born are more likely to be male and are also much more likely to be working conditional on not having a high school diploma. For instance, labor force participation among 25+ year-old natives who did not graduate high school is only 37.1%; for the foreign-born, it is 61.6%. Once you get up to the level of college graduates, natives are slightly more likely to be in the labor force than the foreign-born.

Table 3 also slices people age 25+ up by race and education but unfortunately not by sex. In any case, Table 3 shows that once you control for race and education, native whites and Asians generally have higher labor force participation rates for a given level of education. It is only among black and Latino immigrants versus the native born that you see the foreign-born with higher labor force participation rates, especially (and not surprisingly) among Latino high school dropouts.

So what is the argument here? That natives are bad and immigrants are better, and so we should replace them? I'm sure you could design an immigration policy that would skim the best of the world off. It would screw the rest of the world, but you would get a lot of very good immigrants. So is that what we should do? Get all the >115 IQ people here and bask in the glory?

I never remember the countries "getting screwed" seriously complaining about America stealing their stars. It's mostly someone from the developed world.

Really? It was my impression that brain drain is a common complaint among high emigration countries. But just as a matter of obvious fact, if all the people who have it together leave, then the rest are worse off. How shall the developing world ever stop developing?

Not really. In the Philippines, people who go abroad are practically celebrated as heroes because they send so much money back to their country. Government policy revolves a great deal around making it as easy as possible for qualified Filipinos to work abroad. As with Rahul, my experience is those complaining about brain drain typically live in rich countries and either have problems of their own with immigration (like Steve Sailer's crocodile tears over brain drain) or else are skilled professionals who don't want competition in their occupation. Cynical but true.

India too celebrates and actively encourages its expats. There is a special day put aside each year to honor them , perks encouraging dollar deposits in banks and other sops.

In any case, could a libertarian put the needs of a nation above the desires of the individuals that constitute it?

Many do, Rahul, but I suspect they aren't really libertarians. They ape the real ones when it suits them, and simply ignore the true principles of individual freedom when it doesn't.

That pretty much is the policy of Canada and Australia.

A policy that skimmed the best would at least help the average american. A policy that skims below average immigrants, with kids that will do worse, lower national productivity, and bring worse social norms and vote for worse social policy and more of a welfare state is far far worse than a cream skimming immigration policy that Australia and Canada currently use.

"The typical foreign-born adult resident of the United States today is more likely to participate in the work force than the typical native-born American."

Isn't that what the anti-immigrant folks say? 'Taking our jobs'?

Isn't Tyler's point that some native born american could get jobs if they would lower their job expectations rather making a pro immigration argument.

better still, some native born american corporations could automate those jobs native born americans don't want to do if there wasn't a steady supply of basement wage peasant labor available to them to cost externalize.

Why is that "better still"? Labor force participation among native-born high school dropouts age 25+ is 37%. How would automation change that figure?

"Why is that “better still”?"

Less negative externalities.

"Labor force participation among native-born high school dropouts age 25+ is 37%. How would automation change that figure?"

well, for one, we wouldn't have imported a second intractable underclass.

Fascinating article. Caplan, WInship, Sumner--always worth reading.

I have long felt that there was a libertarian angle to be played with immigrants using a much more commercial, limited services, pay-to-play model.

You gotta love CH and his fears of "white genocide" and racial contamination. Go back to stormfront you coward.

Comments for this post are closed