JERRY KAMMER: Good morning, everyone. My name’s Jerry Kammer. I’m a senior research fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. I want to thank you all for coming today. The report we are introducing today deals with an important issue: the question of competition between immigrants and natives for lower-wage jobs that require relatively modest levels of education. The report is titled “A Drought of Summer Jobs: Immigration and the Long-Term Decline in Employment Among U.S.-Born Teenagers.”
It’s obviously a timely report since summer is coming along, and Steve tells me that labor market data indicate that this summer is shaping up to be one of the worst ever for teen employment. The report is authored by the center’s director of research, Dr. Steve Camarota, and Karen Jensenius, who is a demographer with the center and who got married a week-and-a-half ago.
Dr. Camarota will be on the panel today. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in comparative politics and a Ph.D. in public policy analysis from the University of Virginia. He is a leading expert on the economic and demographic effects of immigration in the United States. And I have a friend on the other side of the immigration debate and I know that he greatly respects Steve’s work. As a matter of fact, he has told me that he sometimes asks his colleagues, where’s our Camarota?
Joining us today to discuss the report will be Drs. Daryl Scott and Lindsay Lowell. Dr. Scott is a professor of history at Howard University and the former chair of the history department at Howard. He is the author of “Immigrant Indigestion: A. Philip Randolph, Radical and Restrictionist.” In 2009, he helped draft a detailed proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigrant system. This proposal and report were sponsored by the Brookings Institution and Duke University. In his current research, Dr. Scott is examining the history of white nationalism in the American South.
Dr. Lowell is director of policy studies for the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. Before joining the institute, Dr. Lowell was director of research at a congressionally appointed U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, headed by the late Barbara Jordan. He has been research director at the Pew Hispanic Center and a labor analyst at the U.S. Department of Labor.
The format today will be that Dr. Camarota will discuss his report, then Dr. Scott and Dr. Lowell will give their remarks and then we’ll have time for Q&A. And also, well, the report is already available online, and later we will have a video as well as a transcript of today’s session available at our website, which is https://cis.org/. So with that, I’d like to introduce Steve Camarota.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, thank you, Jerry. And thank you all for coming. As Jerry indicated, the study we’re releasing today examines the issue of immigration and teen employment. I would say that there are lots of parts of this study, but there are three main things one should take away from this report. First and most important, the labor force participation and the employment rate of U.S.-born teens – that’s kids 16 to 19 – has declined dramatically over the last decade-and-a-half.
The second thing you should take away is this decline is a matter of concern. There is a decent body of research, and it’s growing, showing that there are negative consequences for these kids down the road. If they don’t work as teenagers, this can play out for the rest of their lives, or at least for a long time, as they move into full adulthood. And finally, the third takeaway point, or conclusion, if you will, is that immigration accounts for a significant share of this decline – that is, competition with immigrants for jobs.
So they are the three main points. I’ll try to go over them as briefly as I can. It always seems brief to the speaker; hopefully, the audience will feel the same way.
First, let me discuss labor force participation. We also look at employment and unemployment rates, but we focus on labor force participation. Labor force participation refers to the share of teenagers, or any age group that is either working or looking to work. You are said to be in the labor force if you have a job or you’re looking for one.
Now, the decline in labor force participation among American teens well predates the current economic recession. Just between 1994 and 2000, a period of significant economic expansion, the labor force participation of American teenagers declined from 64 to 61 percent in the summer.
Now, the report focuses on the summer, but we have year-round statistics and all the months show the same – if you compare them to the previous year and then the year before that – show the same general trend of a decline. It’s just that summer is the time when teenagers have traditionally worked the most and they’re most available, so we focused on the summer.
So we get this big decline, or significant decline, in the 1990s. And since 2000, things have really declined even more. Between 2000 and 2007, the labor force participation rate of teenagers fell all the way to 48 percent. And right now, or last summer, I should say, in 2009, it was down to about 45 percent.
So basically, we’ve gone from a situation where you could say nearly two-thirds of teenagers were in the summertime labor force, to a situation even before the current recession that fewer than half were in the summertime labor force.
If we look at the number rather than the shares working, we find that the number of teenagers between 1994 and 2007 – again, before the recession – who aren’t working in the summer increased – this is just the increase – by 3.4 million. The total number of teenagers now not working is nearly 9 million in 2009. Now, that nearly 9 million, remember, compares to less than 5 million back in ’94. There are a huge group of kids now in the United States that appear to be idle every summer and that number continues to grow.
Now, one of the most interesting findings is that the decline in teenage summer employment has impacted teenagers from every segment of society. We have a lot of detailed statistics. I won’t go into them, in the report, but you’re free to look at them. The decline is similar when we look at older teens, those 18 and 19. And the relative decline is very similar when we look at younger teens, those 16 and 17. In fact, we even look at 15-year-olds and they show the same decline as well.
The decline has impacted high school dropouts, kids who don’t finish high school, and kids who are going onto college, and actually are in college and are, say, 19 years of age. So it’s very, very broad. The decline for the highest-income kids is not that dissimilar to the decline for the lowest-income kids. What we have here is a very broad decline. When we look by racial groups, the decline for white, black and Hispanic kids is very similar to each other as well.
Now, the extremely broad nature of this decline is an indication, in our view, that it is not simply due to teenagers from affluent families no longer working because their parents in effect spoil them or provide them with everything that they may need.
Although the decline was similar for teenagers from high- and low-income groups, the fact is, high-income teenagers are still a good deal more likely to work in the summer and year-round than teenagers from low-income families. If it was simply the case that high-income parents basically spoil their kids, you would guess then that high-income teenagers, or those who have high-income parents, would be the least likely to work. But actually, they’re the most likely to work, though the pattern of decline is the same.
In our view, the broad nature of this decline is an indication that changes in the U.S. labor market rather than some change in the composition or characteristics of the teenagers themselves created or at least contributed significantly to this decline.
Now, as even the most casual observer of American immigration politics knows, businesses have repeatedly argued that there simply are no or not enough unskilled workers available. This argument is made by the Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel and Restaurant Association, the Business Roundtable and a host of other businesses.
But it is very difficult to reconcile the decline in teen employment with the contention that simply no seasonal workers are available to fill jobs that require relatively modest levels of education. One would think that if seasonal workers were really in short supply, the share of teenagers in the labor market would actually be increasing. But that’s exactly the opposite of what’s been happening. It’s been falling and quite dramatically.
Now, perhaps the needs of seasonal employers have changed in some fundamental way that teenagers can no longer satisfy. But it’s hard to see what changes have taken place since the early 1990s or even since the 2000 in the nature of seasonal food service, cleaning, retail, construction, child care and other jobs traditionally done by teenagers. It’s hard to see what that change has been just between 2000 and 2007.
Now, the second key finding that we have, as I said at the outset, is that this decline in labor force participation does matter. Why? Because you might say, well, they’re teenagers, okay; it’s unfortunate they’re not working but they don’t support families, generally.
So maybe you don’t think that’s a big deal. But there are two things I would say. One thing is there are a lot of teenagers who live in or near poverty. And their employment, even if they just made 2,000 to $4,000 a year, could really help their families. So that’s one thing to think about.
But perhaps the most important is that there is a large and growing body of research which indicates that it is as a young person that workers develop the skills and habits necessary to function in the world of work. We cite this extensive research in the report but the bottom line from that are poor work habits and weak labor-force attachment developed as a teenager can often follow a person throughout their lives or at least well into their 20s and perhaps 30s.
It seems that there is a kind of window of opportunity when one has to learn how to be a good worker. This includes basic things like not telling your boss he’s an idiot even if he really is. We all have to learn that skill, believe me. Or other important things – my boss isn’t here today so I can especially say that – (chuckles) – or other important things like showing up on time and treating customers with respect or following orders and taking good directions.
It seems that if we don’t learn these things while we’re young, it becomes very difficult, in many cases, to learn them in your 20s. And if you don’t learn them, then there are obvious consequences. As a result of this, research shows that those who do not work as teenagers earn less, they make less money, they work less later in life than those who do work as teenagers.
Now, this is especially true for those who don’t go onto college and for kids from more disadvantaged backgrounds. There’s also research showing that if you don’t work as a teenager, the type of job you get, whether it be status or benefits, tends to be lower if you didn’t work as a teenager. There’s even research showing that for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, if they don’t work, they’re less likely to graduate from high school. If you will, not working makes those that are disadvantaged even more disadvantaged.
Now, there’s not that much doubt about the first two points that I have covered so far: that teen employment has declined dramatically. And there does seem to be a significant problem with these kids not working, especially those who don’t go onto college. But the third point, I think, is going to be the one where we need the most discussion or would be the more contentious.
We find that there is good evidence that immigration accounts for a significant share but by no means the entire decline in teenage summer labor force participation. Between 1994 and 2007, the number of immigrants, legal and illegal, holding a job grew dramatically to 23.2 million by 2007. That’s the total immigrant workforce in the United States. Over this time, about 1 million green cards – that’s permanent immigration – were issued each year on average.
So we have over a million or roughly a million people getting their green card each year. That allows you to stay permanently and eventually become a citizen, if you like. Now, the total illegal population is reckoned to have roughly doubled in size over this period as well, from maybe roughly 6 million or 5 million to 11 or 12 million.
The total number of people allowed in under the H-2B program, which is for seasonal, nonagricultural workers who are unskilled, was about 900,000. We also allowed in 25,000 people over this period for the Q-1 visa. That is often referred to as the “Disney visa,” for people to work at theme parks in unskilled jobs on a seasonal basis.
We’ve also allowed in several million people – about 4 million – on J visas. Very roughly, about two-thirds of that 4 million are workers. They’re the people you see down at beach resorts being waiters and busboys. They come in as au pairs and other jobs that don’t require a lot of education; child care, hotel and restaurant work, that sort of thing.
So immigration without question has been very high over this period and it’s been running at record levels and that’s why the numbers are so big in total. So there’s no question that teens are working less and there’s no question that over that time period there were many more immigrants in the labor market. Immigration dramatically increased the supply of workers.
Now, there’s also very little question that U.S.-born teenagers and immigrants often do the same kinds of jobs. We look at that in our report to some extent but let me just give you one statistic.
If we look at the 15 jobs that teenagers do the most, where are they mostly concentrated? This makes up about 60 percent of teenagers. We find that about one out of five workers – a little more – is an immigrant. In other words, in the 15 top teenage occupations, about one out of five workers is also an immigrant. So there are a lot of immigrants in high-teenage jobs. These include things like retail salesperson, waitress, stock handler, cook, construction laborer, food preparation worker – just exactly the things you might expect.
Now, comparisons over time between 1994 and 2007 show that in those occupations where immigrants made the biggest gains, teenagers tended to have the biggest losses. We also find that when we look at the 10 states where immigrants are the largest share of workers, just 45 percent of U.S.-born teenagers were in the labor market in 2007, whereas in the 10 lowest immigration states, 58 percent were in the labor market. So that’s a big difference.
In other words, in high-immigration states, 45 percent of the teenagers were working or looking for work. In the low-immigration states, 58 percent were. So that’s certainly suggestive that there’s an impact from having large-scale immigration in those states.
Now, we also run a series of regressions – I won’t run through all those numbers. When we do that, we also find, comparing differences between ’94 and 2007, that for each 10 percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of a state’s immigrant population – or share of the workforce, I should say – there was about an eight percentage-point decline in the share of teenagers in the labor force.
Now, this is a big effect. In other words, if the immigrant share of workers went from 10 to 20 percent, the results imply that the share of American teenagers holding a job would decline by almost eight percentage points in response. So this is a big effect but it also indicates it’s not the only factor that’s affecting teenage employment.
I should point out our results are similar to two studies or two relatively recent studies; one by the Federal Reserve entitled “The Impact of Low-Skilled Immigration on Youth Labor Market,” that was just published recently. It’s a working paper and it’s also consistent with research done by Andrew Sum and his colleagues at Northeastern University.
Now, there are several reasons why immigrants might displace natives in the labor market when they do the same kinds of jobs. There are several possibilities and we can talk about them maybe in the question-and-answer period.
But let me just say that I think the number-one reason is simply that the immigrants are overwhelmingly adults; the teenagers are not. If we look again at those top teenage occupations, the vast majority of immigrants doing that work are adults. Only 5 percent – or put a different way, 95 percent of the immigrants in the big teenage occupations are over the age of 20.
It’s probably very difficult for a 17-year-old American to compete with a 28-year-old immigrant – that kind of makes sense. So I think this may – is likely to give them a significant advantage in the labor market.
I see my time is running out or may have already run out so I’ll try to sum things up very quickly. In this report, Karen and I, again, came to three conclusions. First, labor market for participation of teenagers – American teenagers – has declined dramatically. Second, this is a cause for concern for these kids. There are real-world consequences later in life for them, particularly those who don’t go onto college. And third, immigration explains a significant share of this decline but certainly not all of it.
So in conclusion, I would say the decision to allow enlarged numbers of legal immigrants, temporary and permanent, and to tolerate large-scale illegal immigration and to turn away from employing American teenagers may well be seen as desirable by some businesses, however, this policy choice almost certainly has significant long-term consequences.
As non-work and idleness become the norm for more Americans after they leave their teenage years, there may be significant negative effects not just for these individuals but also for the larger society. The potential impact of large-scale immigration on teenagers is something that we should consider when formulating immigration policy in the future. Thank you.
MR. KAMMER: Thank you, Steve. Dr. Scott, please.
DARYL SCOTT: All too often in debates about immigration, the effects of immigration on the well-being of American citizens are left out of the conversation. Lately, the focus has been on immigrants themselves. On the one hand, we are told that immigrants only come to take advantage of opportunity for a better life and they should be allowed a pathway to citizenship. On the other hand, the anti-immigrant argument increasingly focuses on the illegality of the immigrant’s presence and the refusal to grant the quote, unquote, “criminal population” amnesty.
Concerns about individual and social cost seem to have taken a backseat to this kind of moral posturing. Whether we are a nation that will provide opportunity to all or whether we are a nation of laws. To a certain extent, this has always been the case, but in the last two or three years ever since our last debate on immigration reform, this has dominated the conversation. So it’s kind of a morality play that’s going on.
In their article, Steve and Karen attempt to bring a substantive issue to the table: the effect of immigration on the employment of teenagers in America. As a historian, what strikes me about their paper most is that they’re arguing that – in a way, they’re making a bigger claim than Steve and Karen seem to make – something fundamental has shifted in our culture. Something fundamental is shifting in our culture.
For most of American history, I’m sure most of you know that we’ve expected children and teenagers to work. This is the history. We need not go back so far as to, say, the farm life, But we know that that’s what farm life was all about.
We also know that with the rise of industrialization, we once again expected – or, well, people expected children to work to such an extent that we had to put child labor laws in place so that as an industrial society that we did not abuse children’s labor, and so that they could go to school and develop themselves. So we’ve always tried to strike this balance in the modern era between children acquiring the skills through work and going to school and becoming educated.
Now, like most people in America – I’m a historian – mostly I’m thinking about the 19th century and the 20th century. When I look at the world today, when I look out, I’m looking out at the world not with the eyes of a sociologist. I’m just a casual person. I live in a subdivision; I hang around middle-class people.
And we all have a conversation about children today; we all tend to participate in these conversations and my neighbors will say, well, children – the teenagers won’t work. So this is not just a concern that people have about wealthy people. We all seem to think and this is all walks of life. I’ve heard white people say it, I’ve heard black people, Hispanics say it – we can’t get the kids to work like they used to.
Usually when people start talking about the lack of some population to work, we’ll just simply sum it up in one word: lazy. We assume that the people who are not working are lazy. I’ve heard this argument when I’ve done interviews in the South about the local black population and you scratch it a little bit more and you find out that, well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It’s something about opportunity. There’s something about wages, the standards of the wages.
And so what we’re seeing, then, what we’re witnessing is that individuals and corporations both seem to be making a decision not to employ teenagers. When I say “individuals,” it’s something we note. Steve and Karen point out that adults are doing the work that children used to do.
So let’s put the question of immigration aside. We have professionalized the work that’s historically been done by teenagers. So a kid who wants to make money can’t simply borrow his parents’ lawnmower – if you were like me, you didn’t have a lawnmower to borrow – you couldn’t even take the first job to make the money to buy the lawnmower – do a little work, borrow a lawnmower then you buy your own – because now you’re competing with people who cut lawns professionally.
I’m struck by the fact that, at least in my community, it’s not cut by individuals. The lawn services, they bring a crew in and it’s capitalized in a way that kids can’t capitalize anything. So the crew comes in with a truck, with a trailer, big riding lawnmowers, two, three side lawnmowers, gas leaf blowers, and they’re done with the yard in 15 minutes versus the kid down the street.
If he were not lazy, he would do it by himself with a lawnmower. He would have to have the gas-powered edger to do as good a job. And maybe his mother or father would not want him with the gas edger because it might just get your ankle. And so we’re looking at the professionalization of lawn mowing, and it hadn’t struck me that that was literally what was going on.
So it was really unfair to the kids to think that they can compete with adults. And when you walk through this and even when we start talking about babysitting, with the au pairs, and you say, okay, yeah, I lived in New York, yeah, everybody had an au pair – except me – (chuckles.) I didn’t have one. And it was not because of money, it was really because of a backwards set of values according to these other people which said family, only family, can deal with my kids, so we do it ourselves or we get a cousin, but no stranger. But, so, many people did.
So who were these au pairs? Well, these au pairs were people who would come from abroad because at the bottom, they had more human capital. They had more human capital. They brought something to the table. They might teach your kids how to speak a different language, expose to a different culture.
Now, mind you, indigenous Spanish speakers would have performed those same services, right? Maybe? But there’s something more about human capital than that – just that language in this estimation. Okay, so something’s going on here.
And then there were the corporations. When I was a kid, I had a series of jobs – you made me think about my childhood. I had a series of jobs; lots of jobs. I first started stacking bricks. This was when they were knocking down a bit of buildings in the ghetto; you could go out there and stack bricks. So I always had a hustle. That was not a – you’d just go stack bricks and the guy would pay you money. And then the older folks who stacked bricks would throw bricks at you because you were in their way and so you were always in competition with adults for that particular job. But the point is, it was a job you could get access to.
Then you got other jobs – oh, I worked in a park in a hot dog stand; the kind of job that you’re talking about. To tell me that Disney now has a visa to bring in people because they didn’t want people like me working in a hotdog stand in Disney World. Well, it’s an amazing statement.
And then corporations in the city – I remember when I worked for Bell Telephone Company – Ma Bell – when it was a monopoly. And that was my first real job in an industrial – well, large corporate setting. And I was just the kid who had the job who would bring the engineers what they needed.
And so corporate America had these programs – and I understand quite well why – because after the riots in the ’60s, people felt it was necessary to provide opportunity for inner-city youth.
So to me this change that we’re witnessing is fundamental. We’re witnessing a shift in history. And I know this; I’m a historian. About change over time, something is different, and we’re closing the door on the idea that teenagers should work and they need to work. And this is a question whether we were talking about immigration or not, we would be grappling – we should be grappling with this question.
And because we’re talking about immigration and because there’s an assertion on the table that immigration impinges upon it, then you would say, if you believe it’s good for teenagers to work, then things that keep them from working ought to be put on the table for conversation.
To me, it’s about immigration then. It’s also about the policies of corporations. Should they be hiring indigenous kids, regardless of color, regardless of class? Should they be hiring – and should individuals start rethinking who they hire?
I think what I’m saying is whether we were debating immigration or not, we are always when we debate immigration debating the very question of what kind of country we want and what we must do to sustain ourselves as a country.
It is just not in any nation’s interest to have so many of their youth walk – go into their adult years hardly ever having had gainful employment. Now, Steve talks about these things in really nice, dry terms and he’s right about this. But do you really mean to say – do we really mean to say that effectively, people – kids should start becoming members of the workforce when they’re 21? Is that really what we’re saying?
Because part of what I’ve always thought our problem was is that we’ve asked all our kids to delay all their pent-up desires for consumption, all their pent-up desires for relationships – they’ve had to delay this too long in the first place – and now we’re asking them not only to delay it until that magic age, we’re expecting them to magically understand how to perform in the workplace.
The consequences for this to me are just simple. For middle-class kids, it means that we have kids who go to the workplace without an understanding of how to take adult – to take – well, to follow what others tell them to do. I still think that’s a problem for our kids.
But for poor kids, what this means to me is that these kids are going to find work and opportunity outside the legitimate system. And whether we’re talking about black kids, white kids or Hispanic kids, our kids who are poor are going to increasingly be our problem because we have failed them once again by, in effect, eliminating them from the workforce because we do not think that they’re the proper group to perform the labor and there’s no place for them. Thank you.
MR. KAMMER: Thank you. Dr. Lowell.
MR. LOWELL: Good morning. We’ve just heard two very valuable presentations. I’m going to take a bit of a different spin on things insofar as I’m going to ramble a bit. And the reason I’m going to do that is not simply because I don’t have a clear set of notes but because this issue has a lot of different facets and I just want to think through some of these.
In the first place, this is not something that Steve and crew invented. There’s a lot of interest in this increase in teen unemployment and drops in the labor force participation. It has been going on for 15 years. Most of the research has not looked at the immigrant angle until recently. And there are a couple of pieces of research out there.
But it’s not a newly observed pattern either. Doug Massey has written as long as 10, 15 years that one of the reasons that we see a lot of undocumented migrant workers coming in is precisely because they’re filling these jobs that teens do. So it’s not a new observation. Other demographers and economists have noted it.
The question, of course, is then what’s the role of immigration in this change? And I think Steve might concur and certainly if you look at the recent estimate by Chris Smith, about a third to a half of the decline in labor participation rates, the change in employment of teens can be attributed to immigration. Well, a third to a fifth? That’s a heck of a range, right? And there are also a lot of other factors.
And that’s what I want to say, ramble, through now. What are some of these other factors that people are looking at and what are some of the explanations? And it matters both – for a lot of reasons. It matters among other reasons because you want to know what the policy prescriptions are, right?
And let me just give you a little – another reason I kind of present things this way is because of my own inclination as a demographer. I believe in subpopulations with different sets of causalities. I believe in multiple – addressing things to multiple policy changes, not just one.
Let’s talk about what’s the role of immigration? Is it really documented or undocumented? Unfortunately, we don’t know. The studies here don’t tell us. One surmises or would be prone to think that it’s the undocumented that are really taking this role of substituting for what had previously been teen labor.
It’s because of potentially lower reservation wages, but some of these other very interesting and, I think, plausible arguments we’ve heard, which is to some extent the professionalization of these low-skill jobs, the fact that you’ve got workers who are more mature and experienced doing jobs at close to the same wages, although in a very different way of organizing their work than teens used to do.
Another thing that people have noticed, not just the United States, but across a lot of countries over the last 20 years or more, is a couple interesting phenomena about immigrants generally, one of which is that immigrants are starting off in the labor market at starting wages at a much lower relative to natives than people who arrived 10, 20 years ago. That is, each successive cohort or incoming group of immigrants is earning less at the start of their working career in the United States or Norway or Canada than people – than immigrants who arrived 20, 30 years ago.
What this suggests is a structuring of the labor market where immigrants are taking very entry-level jobs to get a foothold in the country and then moving out of them fairly rapidly. And this has a lot of implications for what’s happening.
Another thing that people talk about, and this is going to be touched on a little bit later, something I think we need to think about is the doughnut-hole economy. What’s that? That’s the idea is that we’re creating a lot of very good-paying jobs and a lot of poor-paying jobs.
So if you look at the increase in jobs, oddly enough, we’re creating a lot of jobs that pay very well and jobs that don’t pay so well and not a lot of jobs in the middle. And I’ve done some research on this and you can see immigrants are disproportionately – especially certain origin groups who disproportionately captured the lower end of job creation.
Long and short of it is, it may not just be undocumented. It may be a way in which the labor market is being restructured. Are immigrants being stuck in these low-end jobs? Probably not legal immigrants; they’re probably moving out. But a lot depends on the educational level of the immigrants coming in. And these demographic things keep on playing out a lot.
So for example, if we’re talking about female labor force participation in particular, women and young women in particular are often in these jobs that immigrants are in and teens are in. And there’s a lot of research that asks whether or not the earned income tax credit, the change in welfare rules have led especially to increases in women in these jobs, young women.
Has the falling teenage pregnancy rate changed labor force participation rates? Is this something that’s going on overall? And there’s research on these issues and people aren’t really sure. And so is it playing a role? Probably. Has all kinds of implication for policy, doesn’t it?
The other thing that gets talked about a lot is change in schooling. Now, here we get into a place I find very uncomfortable, which is – the research is all over the place – are, in fact, high school completion rates going up or down over time? And depending on how you measure it, you get dramatically different answers.
Now, I happen to fall in the camp of measurement that says that high school completion rates are going up. Well, if that’s the case, then you’ve got more kids staying in school for longer periods of time. It may not affect the summer issues that Steve was talking about as much but probably does affect overall labor force participation rates among teens. You can’t answer that easily.
Now, this work by the Federal Reserve tries to look at whether or not immigrants are associated with teenagers taking the opportunity to go to school more because they can’t get jobs as readily. And there seems to be some driver-effect of immigration increasing enrollment rates among teens. Big effect? No. But, again, it’s out there. That’s why I say I’m rambling a bit because there are all these offsetting, complex effects.
Very interesting work on time use. And this is cross-national interests. So this also kind of backs into the attitude thing: Are teenagers simply watching TV more? Are they playing games more – electronic games? Yeah, they are.
But here’s a really strange relationship I didn’t expect to see. In the United States and crossnationally to some extent, the more time – for working teens, they actually spend more time watching TV and playing games. The thing they tended to do less of is play extracurricular sports and school sports. So they seem to be trading off the school activities that they choose relative to work and non-work opportunities, so they’re shifting what they like to do with their free time. So that doesn’t seem to explain too much.
Attitudes: You can’t read about – in this literature – among those who try to service teens without this discussion of change in attitudes. And most of them are fairly dismissive because they talk about the structure of the labor market. But if you talk to employers, you get a very different picture. Employers constantly will tell us that it’s not just teens, but it’s young adults that are changing their attitudes about work.
Now, teens get discouraged much more readily too, so if there is this competitive effect, they drop out of the labor market a lot faster. So in the current recession, you read the literature out there among those counseling kids and there’s a lot of talk about, get out there early before the summer; don’t get discouraged; keep on trying.
So this thing about attitudes, on first blush, I want to dismiss it. On the other hand, it’s a change in structure in how people are approaching and thinking about things. And this backs into this issue of relative supply as well because family structures are changing.
So I certainly work in the suburb, live in the suburbs and I see the teams – my house included – who come in and do the job in 15, 20 minutes. Boom, they’re done. It’s an amazing process.
I did several things as a teen; I mowed loans. And I don’t see many teenagers out there anymore. So I mean, that has a big change. Of course, I also worked on ranches and did construction and worked in restaurants. And boy, did I have bosses that really were miserable. (Laughter.) But you learn to live with it.
So that has changed. And it’s a remarkable change too in family structure. So we have smaller families that are more isolated. Trying to find teens in my neighborhood who’d want to shovel my snow is very difficult. (Laughter.) You know, it really is. And the interesting thing –I’m going to go back to this: What I see more of is adults actually going around the neighborhoods offering to shovel snow.
So again, you have these school effects going on, you have time use, you have changes in attitudes, which I think can be explained by a lot of other things, but seem to be real – at least employers think they’re real – at all age ranges.
These skills that we heard about are very important: How well do you play in a team? How well do you hold a commitment to work? It’s really hard for kids to learn that. And college graduates, employers are saying, don’t learn that. Well, where are they going to learn it? They’re not going to learn it in school. They have to learn it much earlier in the workforce.
Steve doesn’t talk about it much here, but in his paper, they also look a little bit about whether or not kids are doing internships instead. And those numbers are small, so I think it’s pretty compelling that’s not what’s going on.
All right, well, let’s kind of roll through some more of things that are interesting. How about various minority groups? Well, Harry Holzer from my institution at Georgetown is very interested in the effect of commuting, especially on the differential impacts of labor force participation rates between male and female teens among the African-American population.
And what he finds is that this commuting disconnect really plays a role for teen males among the African-American population, so that if you’re living in the central city, getting out to where the jobs are now being created today in the suburbs has become increasingly difficult. And this spatial mismatch argument seems to play a role for that subpopulation. So again, different subpopulations – I’ve already talked about women, African-American young males – different things can be playing a role and have different kinds of impacts.
Two other things – I’m going to come back to what I think is probably an area that needs a lot more research and that’s, what’s the role of government programs? In this literature, the thing I’ve been looking at for a long time and some of us were aware of is the impact of minimum wage. The generic argument in theory and economics is that what happens when you increase the minimum wage? You crowd teens out. Right? Job goes up; employers really can’t afford that casual labor as easily as they readily used to do.
Now, we had declining or stable relative minimum wages until the late 1990s and then it started increasing. So that corresponds to some extent with what’s going on here. And state-by-state, it can vary quite a bit.
We’ve also got things like living wages going on that are affecting particular metropolitan labor markets. Does that play a role? Talk about a place where econometrics is really puzzling – this is one of them. By and large, you get different kinds of results depending on how you operationalize the model. I think what the most consensus is, is that there seems to be an impact that increases unemployment among teens, but it’s a fairly moderate or modest impact overall.
At the same time, this article by Chris Smith, which we referred to by the Federal Reserve, looks specifically at the effect of minimum wage on wage inequality, this doughnut-hole job creation that I was talking about. And he argues that the change in minimum wage was involved with about of the third of the changing wage inequality over the last decade or so. So minimum wage plays a role here and especially for teens. It’s a little bit unresolved, but it’s important.
The Urban Institute just within the last little bit has come out with a report that focuses in, on another area that people are concerned in terms of government intervention. And that’s in moving kids from school to work and youth employment programs. So in the late 1990s, the government phased out federal youth employment programs for summer work and it’s estimated that about 10 percent of the increase in teen unemployment and teen joblessness is attributable to the lack of these programs.
So if you want to push policy levers, you kind of see where I’m going. Here’s another one you might want to think about: minimum wage, school-to-work patterns, federal government programs for summer work.
Whether or not your immigration focus is on the undocumented or the documented, these temporary work programs I have a separate interest in. I’m finishing up a project on that right now. And the growth in temporary work programs has, in fact, been astounding, especially during the last decade. It’s been an astounding growth. What role does that play? We simply don’t know. We don’t really understand it. We just know, as Steve has pointed out, that the numbers are big.
So I’ve got a couple more minutes and I’m going to wrap up because what I want to – one of the things that I noticed – there’s a couple of things. In this current recession, increases in teen joblessness have been particularly marked. And employers are saying, if you look at opinion polls, that they’re going to hire adults instead because they don’t want the teens. The adults can’t find jobs; they’re more ready to backdrop to these kinds of positions. And that seems to be going on.
Over the long run, however, there’s two things that I think are really curious, one of which is that if you look since the 1950s at overall teen employment rates – so there’s unemployment, there’s job employment ratios, there’s labor force participation rates – they kind of move in sync or counter to each other. Today looks a little bit like different points in time, say, in the mid-’60s.
So what happened in the mid-’60s? Well, you could argue it was the baby boom. A lot of baby boomers were coming of age; they entered the teen labor market; there are a lot of them; they crowd each other out. Possibly, but we don’t really know. That’s an argument.
Other than that, the trends today in some ways in terms of levels don’t look that different than they did at times in the 1980s – all of which is to say if you look at the cycles, there are big bumps up and down.
So the question is, where we are going to come at the outside of this? Some people are arguing that this depression is going to be – recession – is going to be good for teen employment balancing out because it’s going to discipline youth; they’re going to learn they’re going to have to work hard to keep these jobs if they want them. And that indeed is what has happened in past recessions.
But the other thing which you can kind of see in Steve’s table if you’ll look back at his – it’s a table in his appendix. The largest share of workers in many of these so-called teen jobs is neither immigrants nor teens; they’re adults. And one of the things that seems to be going on – certainly in this recession you see it clearly – is the employment of adults in formerly teen jobs or in teen employment. And it gets back to this doughnut-hole economy we’re talking about, the creation of low-end jobs and high-end jobs – there seems to be something going on.
And this echoes a little bit, I think, what Professor Scott was saying in different ways: We seem to be seeing a restructuring of the economy going on in a little way that’s preferring some native workers – in some case, second-generation workers – to work in these teen employment areas. And that’s, I think, in some ways an equally disturbing thought to the impact of immigration.
So just to recap, I think – I tend to believe these results. I have also tried to point out a whole host of other areas and factors that people are looking at to try to explain the phenomenon and to keep in mind that the solutions are probably multiple at the same time.
MR. KAMMER: Okay, Lindsay, just a quick point of clarification, if I may. When you were talking about Chris Smith’s study and his conclusions on the role of immigrant workers in the reduction of labor force participation by native use, I think at one point you said the range that Smith found was between one-third and one-half and the second time you said between one-third and one-fifth.
MR. LOWELL: One-third and one-half. Sorry.
MR. KAMMER: One-third and one-half. Okay. Do we have questions? Yes.
Q: Yeah, those Disney visas theme jobs, I’m curious because I used to have one of those. (Laughter.) And it was the only one I could get. Literally. The shoe factory closed down the year before, okay. But are they paid or taxed any differently?
MR. CAMAROTA: Not that I’m aware of, no. I mean, they shouldn’t be. If you work in the United States, you’re subject to income tax unless you’re working in a diplomatic capacity. But they don’t have any –
MR. KAMMER: They don’t pay Social Security tax. The kids who come from abroad for those summer jobs –
MR. CAMAROTA: You know, that’s an interesting question. Right. And the employer’s contribution to Social Security tax and Medicare is like 7 percent. That’s an interesting point about why you might want a J-1 to be your waitress or waiter, but since – well, maybe more like your busboy; someone who doesn’t rely entirely on tips, or maybe you want your roofer or the guy who cuts the grass or works at the hotdog stand because they are cheaper from the employer’s point of view. If they’re paid on the books, they would be about 7 percent cheaper because that’s the combined effect.
Could I make one comment to something? Lindsay – I always find your comments fascinating and very helpful. One thing you said though that I’m not sure that I agree with, historically, looking at historical data, I never find a period where only 45 percent of teenagers are in the labor force. But we’ll just have to leave that kind of hanging out there. I’ll have to go back and look.
I don’t find that at all from when we looked at the 1980s. We can’t distinguish natives and immigrants in the 1980s with monthly data, no. But since there are very – fewer immigrants that – as I understand it. But we looked at the late 1980s and it was a lot higher than it is now. The decline is even more striking if you go from like ’88 or ’89 to now. That’s we found anyway, in the summer. And I don’t find it – I didn’t think it was anywhere near as low as – the 45 is now, 48 is before the recession in ’07. But you think it was around 48 at – when was it – what year was it around that?
MR. LOWELL: Well, I’m looking at Smith’s thing for all workers. And the teen unemployment ratios seasonally adjusted –
MR. LOWELL: He has the – one thing is clear. If you look – and the date only goes back to about 1948 – you see overall levels of – let’s look at the labor force participation rate – that were running in the mid-’40s, back in the ’50s, through about the early ’60s and then they did a drop fairly steeply to the mid ’60s to around 32 percent, okay, which is about what we saw in 2005.
MR. CAMAROTA: That’s the employment rate?
MR. LOWELL: The labor force participation rate.
MR. CAMAROTA: Okay.
MR. LOWELL: Yeah, the employment ratio mirrors this at different levels.
MR. CAMAROTA: Right.
MR. LOWELL: And then you see a real notable increase in 1980 where we hit the peak actually, much earlier. So if you were to measure this change from 1980 –
MR. CAMAROTA: In ’80, you’d get an even bigger decline.
MR. LOWELL: You get even a bigger decline. In 1980, the labor force participation rate of teens was around 50 percent. So then it drops today, so we’re back to where we were in the mid-’60s, roughly, which is the early 30s percentages.
But you can also look at these very big cycles. So you know, the question to some extent is, what’s driving the cyclical changes overall over the longer run? And since the decline is longer-lived since the 1980s, what’s been going on? And why was the teen employment rate increasing during the ’70s during the oil shock? In other words, to me it’s a strange time series generally.
And there are other things going on. So for example, Frank Bean (sp) asked whether or not the decline in immigration, especially in the H-1 and F visas during the post-2001 shock through about 2005, 2006 had any effect on college-going. These would be just post-teen. And sure enough, native college enrollments go up quite a bit as these F foreign student and H numbers drop.
MR. CAMAROTA: Interesting.
MR. LOWELL: But he looks at it and he sees an increase in the population of that age group coming online right about then. So in fact, we actually have this odd kind of blip up in the number of teens in the last half-dozen years. I don’t think that’s playing any havoc with what you’re talking about but you get these kind of strange demographic rollouts too.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. The historical data is very hard to work with going back to, like, past the 1980s on this monthly data. And if you transform it into seasonal adjustment, that can have a huge effect.
MR. LOWELL: Sure.
MR. CAMAROTA: Karen’s sort of our resident expert on seasonal adjustment and it’s quite a thing to do. That’s why we look at the summer so to kind of avoid seasonal adjustment, -too, though we do some seasonal adjustment for the unemployment. But anyway, okay. I’m sorry. It was a long discussion. I’m sorry.
Q: My name is Chelsea Hanson and I’m the immigration specialist at the American Jewish Committee. And I was wondering, my question has to do with undocumented immigrants and unemployment of teen natives. And have you found that they’re competing for the same jobs in the same sectors of the low-skilled industry or are they different?
MR. CAMAROTA: I would say that if you look at those high-teen occupations, based on the demographic characteristics of the immigrants in those, you might be looking at a 60/40 split, maybe a 50/50 split. That is, about 60 percent or 50 percent of the immigrants in those occupations are illegal and about 40 or 50 percent are legal immigrants, either temporary or permanent. So it’s probably, you know, maybe half, a little more than half illegal. Is that the question you have?
Q: No. For example, most of the – or many of the undocumented immigrants are in meatpacking and agriculture industries, which are low-skill, but just from my experience is that these – most teens are looking for jobs in retail, restaurants as waiters, lifeguards, babysitting, that sort of thing. So they’re all low-skill, but are they the same industries? So are they competing for the same low-skills jobs or are they different?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. No, remember, only a very small fraction of all illegals now work in agriculture. Usually people reckon it to be like around five percent, something like that. So there are very – a lot of the people in agriculture are legal. But as the illegal population, seven or eight million illegal workers, maybe half a million of them – depending on the time of year because agriculture is very seasonal – work in agriculture. So it’s a very – a modest fraction of illegals now work in agriculture. Twenty years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. But today it is.
So when we look at occupations – and there’s a detailed table in the appendix – we are looking at things like cashier and food service worker, cook, food preparation, stock handler, stock mover. These are the occupations that teenagers do.
And we looked before the recession, so that’s where – in an area like fruit picking, yeah, 20 or 30 years ago, there were teenagers who did that. I worked on a farm as a kid. But I’m 45, so that’s not – there’s a lot of farm labor done still by American kids but it’s in the context of a family farm. Anyway, go ahead.
MR. LOWELL: Yeah, I mean, that’s a very interesting question and in some ways, it goes to the core of the issue. Again, one of the interesting things going on with these longer-term patterns is that labor force participation rates of people in their young 20s has dropped, overall labor force participation rates for 25- to 54-year-olds have dropped. What’s interesting is that labor force participation rates of older people are actually stabilizing and increasing a little bit.
So, again, something that’s going on in the labor market generally that includes immigrants’ role, but something that’s – the restructuring of the labor market is changing overall labor force participation rates. So an interesting ancillary question – so when I go down to Florida for vacation, guess who’s working all the retail jobs and the grocery stores? It’s old people. So that’s a very strange kind of twist on this.
But when you look at this particular market, one suspects it gets fairly complicated. So if you look at the share of immigrants as cooks, it’s a fairly high proportion. That’s where I cut a lot of my teeth as a young worker. But if you look among – at immigrants as service staff, it’s fairly low relative to what teens do. And that’s surprising to me, but that’s what the data seems to show.
In other words, so you got these kind of odd restructurings going on in the labor market in a lot of ways, and it’s almost on a job-by-job basis. I did construction as a kid and teams of – this professionalization was already starting way back in the ’70s. But that’s been an area immigrants have kind of, like, gained relative to teens. But in some of these other very teen occupations, they haven’t. Like, lifeguards, there are still teens disproportionately doing that kind of job. So it’s almost job-by-job.
MR. KAMMER: I’d like to ask about geographic segmentation. I notice when I drive to State College, Pennsylvania – my wife’s on the faculty up at Penn State; I make that drive frequently – once you get past Frederick, there are – all the McDonald’s – and I take different routes and always stop at McDonald’s – (laughter) – are staffed by people who speak English with no accent. And I talk to them when I can; they tend to be natives of the area.
But in the D.C.-Baltimore region, again, I talk to a lot of immigrants and they – a big influx recently in the past couple of years, for example, from Chiapas and lots of folks from Salvador and Guatemala. I’m just wondering if certain jobs – and especially, for example, in the fast food industry – become identified by local teens, native teens, as jobs that immigrant people do and as jobs that they don’t want to do.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, I think this is an interesting – this is one issue that Lindsay didn’t touch on. Is it the case that the presence of so many immigrants in an occupation has an impact on the social status of that occupation? It probably does, that the perception becomes that’s not a job that American teenagers do.
Though it’s very hard to disentangle that from the fact that most of the ways kids find jobs in the past and now is through social networks, right? Their family, their mom gets them a job, their dad gets them a job, their cousin gets them a job, their friend at high school gets them a job, saying, hey, you know, I work here, why don’t you get a job there?
If no one the teenager knows has ever done that particular type of job, putting aside the fact of whether – it’s not necessarily unpleasant; it could be in air conditioning. It’s just taking orders at a McDonald’s. But if no one you know has ever done that type of job, it’s going to occur to you much less to apply for it.
And so that way in which, kind of, employers seem to have come in many cases to rely on social networks of immigrants to find them their jobs. And the old social networks where they talked to a local minister and knew a local guidance counselor or asked their older employees, do you know of any other kids who might like to run the cash register, those social networks have atrophied.
But they seem to have atrophied particularly, obviously, in high-immigrant areas. But if you go to Pittsburgh, everyone who works in the fast food restaurant is born in the United States and it’s still disproportionately kids. So that’s an interesting question: How does the presence of immigrants shape it?
Now, the other question is, if a large fraction of the people who work there speak Spanish, as an employer, you might decide, well, I need people who speak Spanish, and in that case, native-born kids would only get shut out.
In the restaurant right across from where I work on 14th Street, twice in the last eight years, they’ve had signs up for people as a cook in the back, but it’s always in Spanish. They don’t even advertise the job in English because such a large share of people who work back there are Spanish speakers. So that’s another interesting question as to how a job gets shaped by the presence of immigrants. And teenagers or native-born people could be locked out in that case.
MR. KAMMER: Other questions? Yes.
Q: So I’m Michael Rose. I’m a reporter for – (inaudible). So I guess my question is if you see this as a problem that the share of jobs held by youth, native-born youth, is declining and immigrants are taking those jobs? And what is the solution?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, I mean, we don’t go into that in this paper.
Q: (Inaudible, cross talk.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. Well, I would say that you ought to think about that when you set your level of immigration. Obviously, if you decide that you’re not going to be enforcing your immigration laws very much or you’re going to enforce them vigorously, you might want to consider the impact on teen employment. That would be one of many factors.
If you decide that you’d like to have amnesty or legalization for illegal immigrants, the impact on American workers if the immigrants are allowed to stay versus if many of them are encouraged to go home. When you think about whether you want to create a new Q visa or how you want to use the J visa.
So I do think there are policy implications here, but I guess the first thing you have to decide is what’s the purpose of your immigration policy and just – you could argue that, for example, one argument that does get made – and this is a position shared by a lot of people – is that the – and this is true – the big beneficiaries of immigration are the immigrants themselves.
And that can be used as a pretty consistent – not every case, not every time – but a consistent argument for large-scale immigration. American society may or may not benefit but the immigrants do. So if that’s your primary concern, then you might just say, tough luck, to the teens. Or you might say, well, we’ll just have to do something else for them but we’ll keep letting a lot of immigrants in.
If you’re very concerned about the teenagers, then maybe a more moderate pace of immigration certainly would make sense, and more vigorous enforcement of the immigration laws.
MR. KAMMER: Steve, should employers be required to show if they’re claiming worker shortages that they’re paying more in order to attempt to induce? Because I talked to the mostly Mexican and Salvadorian men who come into work and put landscaping, planting flowers next to our office. Just yesterday, I was talking to those guys from El Salvador. And these men tend to be making eight or $9 an hour. I mean, that’s a very difficult way to earn a living.
And I’m wondering, clearly, the employers are doing very well by hiring people who will work hard for this kind of money, but should we require proof that higher wages are being offered, and if so, how do we set that standard?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, that’s a great question. When I was a teenager – and there’s certainly data on this – teenagers did once make a lot more money. It wasn’t uncommon for tough jobs – construction, working on a farm, that sort of thing – for a teenager, at least in New Jersey, which is a high cost-of-living area, where I grew up – to make $7 or $6 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that’s, like, 14 bucks an hour now. Let’s just say, in 1982.
Teenagers never make that much anymore – maybe in very rare circumstances – so that’s an interesting question. We didn’t talk much about wages. And it does seem that at least when we follow men over the last 30 years, they make less. Less-educated people make a lot less than they used to; high school dropouts, the usual figure is around 20, 25 percent less in real terms on an hourly basis.
It is an interesting question: Employers have really resisted any kind of metric to say that – they’re willing to say that – the guest worker programs, one of the things they don’t like are the wage provisions of it. They feel it’s too inflexible for them, it doesn’t satisfy their needs. And it is an interesting question.
In a report you actually authored on meatpacking, you cite all the research showing that in 1980, meatpackers made about 45 percent more in real terms than they do today. If we’d had a discussion about recruiting unskilled workers, that kind of massive decline in wages is probably a relevant part of that discussion. That makes a big difference.
MR. KRAMMER: Lindsay, was the Jordan commission concerned about these issues? Did Barbara Jordan take it up or was it – ?
MR. LOWELL: No. Of course, at that point in time, also, that’s 1991, teen employments had kind of bounced back up. This has really come on everybody’s radar screen last half-dozen years. And especially in this last recession, even though it was a long-term trend, people thought about it. I think the one thing the Jordan commission recommended in particular was the better management of temporary work programs.
In today’s climate, if you have comprehensive immigration reform, legalization or an amnesty program, one thing that’s quite possible – “probable” is a big question – is that the newly legalized individuals will move increasingly out of these particular low-end jobs and move into other jobs. Would that create, then, more opportunities for teen youth? Possibly. As long as you discount these other larger, structural factors I’ve been talking about, which seem to be moving a lot of native-born adults into these jobs as well.
But then you’ve got the follow-on that is always talked about, which is the large-scale increase of temporary work programs. Remember that other 2006 bill, they were talking about 400,000 temporary workers a year to be coming into the United States. This is outside of agriculture, by and large.
If those kinds of numbers get enacted again, I think what you’ll do is a reinforcement of this particular phenom and immigration’s role in it because what you’re doing explicitly then is freezing the wage growth for employers in preference of temporary employed, foreign-born workers. So I think that takes a lot of thinking about as well.
MR. KRAMMER: A question?
Q: (Off mike.)
MR. KRAMMER: Could you identify yourself please?
Q: (Off mike.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, it’s an interesting question. I mean, you wouldn’t expect to find – the attitude question, it does seem there seems to be something to it because throughout the country, teen employment has declined. On the other hand, if teens in America had been developing a bad attitude regardless of immigration, you wouldn’t expect to find much of a relationship between the presence of immigrants in a labor market and teen labor force participation rates, but we do find that.
Or, put simply, teens work a lot more in Pennsylvania than they do in California. The differences are very striking. Pennsylvania is a low-immigration state. And even when you control for other factors, you still seem to find this big effect. But that wouldn’t necessarily mean that attitude doesn’t matter, it’s just that you would expect a general decline in attitude throughout the country – unless teenagers are just better behaved in Pennsylvania, which is where I was born and lived a large share of my life, so maybe that’s true.
But my guess is that when you think about this, it’s very possible that one of the things that’s going on is if no one you know has ever held that kind of job, it just doesn’t occur to you to take that kind of job.
And if it’s all immigrants, it has an impact on how the job is viewed by teenagers. If there were fewer immigrants allowed into the country and illegal immigrants were encouraged to go home, then the jobs would be more freed up and, over time, you would expect more teenagers to go into those jobs.
Jerry wrote an interesting series of papers where he looked meatpacking, and these were in mostly raids at meatpacking plants, enforcement actions, where all the illegal immigrants, who sometimes were one out of every four workers, were taken out of the facility. And he looked to see if the facility had to shut down or just couldn’t find anybody to replace them.
And it turned out, even before the recession, that in every case, they could find workers. And they did often have to treat workers better or adopt new recruiting tactics, and they also had to offer bonuses and higher pay to do that. It took a little while; a few months.
So I guess I would say that I’m not very sympathetic to arguments – and I’m not saying you’re saying this – that Americans don’t want these jobs or wouldn’t do them. Lots of things matter: Are they recruited for those jobs? Does it seem like a job that people they know has ever done? The pay and benefits in that job? Working conditions in that job?
Remember, no matter what job you think of, generally speaking, the majority of workers are U.S.-born, whether you look at janitors, maids, busboys, construction laborers, taxi drivers – in America, pretty much.
I have a report on this. Looking at the detailed occupational categories, 55 percent of maids in the United States are U.S.-born; 58 percent of taxi drivers are U.S.-born; 65 percent of grounds maintenance workers are U.S.-born; 75 percent of janitors are U.S.-born. So there are lots of immigrants in those occupations but it wouldn’t be right to say Americans don’t want them or never do them.
And so I think that if you had less immigration, assuming we made that policy choice, we’d see a lot of – we probably would draw significantly more teens back into the labor market. But would we get back to the level we were in 1990? I don’t know. I would think not.
MR. LOWELL: I think the question of attitude is interesting. Again, it comes up consistently when you talk to employers and it’s not just teens. And I can tell you, as a teacher, I see a difference in cohorts and their attitude in the classroom over the years. (Chuckles.) Most instructors have.
How that actually translates to the labor market is a bit of an interesting unknown to my way of thinking because you have this very strong thing called reservation wage, which is the willingness of migrants who come from abroad where wages are much lower, to accept low wages in the United States.
But even that’s playing out in very odd ways. During the 1990s, one of the things that happened is that immigrant labor force employment rates and unemployment converged with those of natives. That is, there was tremendous improvement especially at the low end of the labor market with Latino immigrants – remarkably so.
And then something strange happened after 2001 – strange to my way of thinking – which is that the employment ratio started going down for native groups and actually for migrants who had been in the country for five or 10 years or more. Wages kind of stayed stable for experienced workers – immigrant or native-born – in the U.S. labor market. But recently-arrived immigrants saw their labor force participation rates go up and their starting wages go down. Andrew Sum touches a little bit on this, the Pew Hispanic Center Data –
MR. CAMAROTA: We have a report on this – (inaudible, cross talk).
MR. LOWELL: Yeah, you’ve got a report on this; Rakesh Kochhar has it as well. So in other words, to some extent, if you’re talking about labor force participation rates and wages as these indirect indicators of attitude and willingness to work, it plays out that up until 2007 or so, newly arrived immigrants were having very high labor force participation rates but they were doing so at the cost of accepting lower wages. So these issues of supply and demand have very strong impacts.
MR. KRAMMER: Any final questions? We have a few minutes for final comments. Dr. Scott?
MR. SCOTT: Yeah, one of the things I’ve noticed about all discussions of social policy is people will say, well, what are the policy implications for this? And one of the things I’ve always recognized in those conversations is that the facts never lead you to any particular policy. They may lead you away from certain policies but they never lead you to any given policy.
It’s always about, at the end of the day, what kind of country you want to live in, who are we as a people and who we should be as a people. If, for instance, we shut down immigration 100 percent, everybody’s attitudes will shift about employment because – about employees because we would need everybody in the workforce eventually.
Attitudes will follow – and we saw this with welfare reform. Everyone thought the world would come to an end with welfare reform for poor folks. Liberals said, they’ll never work, right? Or, that there would be no jobs for them and so they’d be in trouble; people would starve; there’d be more crime.
We heard all these kinds of things. The policy shifted and it seems that the attitudes of people on welfare shifted. In each and every case with policy, changes to policy, people will respond one way or the other; there’ll be shifts in attitude.
But more than anything else, I’m going to say that, look, this is always about the kind of country we want to be in. And it’s always about contending issues and interests. And a lot of the confusion in the policy, no matter – is about people using the data to get the end result that they want. And yet, before this is all over, we’re going to have to compromise as a nation to come up with a policy that’s functional for all of us; to come up with balancing the kind of country may of us think we ought to, should be. With our real concern about getting along and getting onto other issues, the longer we put this off, the worse off we’re going to be.
MR. KRAMMER: Dr. Lowell, final comment?
MR. LOWELL: I’m not sure I do actually. (Chuckles.) Basically enough, I think I would agree with the contention that there are a lot of complex factors going into this. But policies do matter, of course, and there’re probably a number of policies that one needs to look into, but immigration policy is certainly a very important one.
MR. KRAMMER: Steve, last word?
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, I guess the last word is I think that what I hope we’ve said here is that it is complex – Lindsay was right; I knew he would say that and he didn’t disappoint. I do think the effect of immigration is significant on segments of the labor market, particularly teenagers. I think an estimate of one-third to one-half of the decline being caused by immigration makes sense.
We discuss in the paper some of the limitations. It assumes that you can measure the impact of immigration at the local level or at a state level, which might be a very big assumption. It also assumes that we’ve captured all the things that could affect it or most of the things that could affect it. And both of those are pretty big assumptions.
Do I think the effect will be bigger than that? Yeah, it could be. But there’s no way that’s all of it, but it could be a big part of the story.
And the other question is, maybe – and this is a maybe – it’s one of the things we can do something about. We can change immigration policy if we choose. We can more vigorously enforce our immigration laws and encourage people to go home. We can lower the level of legal immigration just as we can increase it.
Changing people’s attitudes might be very difficult. Changing the attitudes of employers might be very difficult. Trying to restructure the bottom end of the U.S. labor market might be very difficult; so would changing immigration policy both politically and practically. But of all of the policy options, it seems to me that maybe changing immigration policy is one of the easier ones to do. Thank you.
MR. KRAMMER: Okay, we’ll wrap it up. Thank you all for coming. Again, the report is already available online, cis.org. The video and transcript will be available on our website shortly, whatever that means. Thanks a lot, bye-bye.