The Truth About One-Sided DACA Reporting

By Jason Richwine on September 10, 2017

Over at the Washington Post's Wonkblog, reporter Tracy Jan has a piece entitled, "White House claims 'dreamers' take jobs away from blacks and Hispanics. Here's the truth." The truth, according to the immigration advocates interviewed for the article, is that DACA has no undesirable effects whatsoever on the U.S. labor market.

Ms. Jan apparently did not reach out to any immigration skeptics for comment. Had she done so, they would have told her several things. First, DACA recipients are not a high-skill group. The 15 percent of DACA recipients over the age of 21 who have a four-year degree is far from the 34 percent among natives in the same age range. Furthermore, as Alan Tonelson points out, the occupations held by DACA recipients seem to be primarily working-class. The idea that they are not competing with less-educated natives, as the advocates in the Wonkblog article claim, is unlikely.

Second, although there is certainly not a fixed number of jobs in our economy, immigration can still negatively affect American workers. "While many studies conclude that, economy-wide, the impact of immigration on average wages and employment is small, a high degree of consensus exists that specific groups are more vulnerable than others to inflows of new immigrants," according to a book-length report by the National Academies of Sciences published last year. The report goes on to name prior immigrants and low-skill natives as examples of groups hardest hit, and it lists nine different studies that find negative wage effects.

Fewer studies look at minority employment specifically, but a 2010 paper by economists George Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger, and Gordon Hanson is very relevant here. Entitled "Immigration and the Economic Status of African-American Men", the paper estimates that increases in low-skill immigration are associated with lower employment rates, lower wages, and higher incarceration rates for black men. In a study published the same year, sociologists Edward Shihadeh and Raymond Barranco found that black unemployment tends to be higher in cities where immigration is high and jobs are relatively scarce. Another sociologist, Augustine Kposowa, has linked minority unemployment to earlier immigration waves as well. These studies do not settle the issue, but the results are in line with the White House position, and the Wonkblog article could have been more balanced by including them.

Finally, even if we disregard the immigration connection established above, employment for black Americans has clearly been slipping. The percentage of native-born, prime-age black men who are not in the labor force – meaning not working and not looking for work – rose from an already-high 16 percent in 2000 to 21 percent today. This growing detachment from the labor force is a complicated problem, but issuing work permits to competing workers from abroad can only exacerbate it.

Again, it is unfortunate that Tracy Jan did not include these points in an article purporting to offer "the truth" about a controversial issue. Here is a different truth: If mainstream media outlets want credibility with the public, they must make an effort to reduce their bias. No such effort was made here.