Studies find low-skilled migrants, both legal and illegal,
disrupt labor market for U.S. youth
The number of teenagers in the U.S. with a job has been cut in half since the 1980s, and researchers who’ve studied the issue closely say it appears immigration has a lot to do with it.
Christopher L. Smith, an economist with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, found in 2012 that a 10 percent increase in the number of employed immigrants with no more than a high school diploma reduces the average number of hours American teenagers work in a year by 3 percent.
There are now four times as many foreign-born people in the U.S. than there were in 1970 — and fewer teenagers working than at any time in recent history.
Immigration, Smith wrote in the Journal of Labor Economics, "has had a sizable impact on youth employment."
In the first quarter of 2017, just 18 percent of 16- and 17-year-old, U.S.-born Americans had jobs — a historic low.
The problem: One-quarter of American teenage males and almost one-third of American teenage females work in the 20 most popular jobs for immigrants. These include restaurant cooks, restaurant servers, construction, and grocery-store cashier jobs.
As immigrants take those jobs, teenagers looking for work are out of luck.
"What you've seen is just a totally massive decline in work among the young in the United States," says Steve Camarota, the director of research for the Center for Immigration Reform.
Immigration isn't likely the only reason, granted, he told LifeZette. More teenagers take summer classes now than 30 years ago. Also, few summer jobs would pay enough for a teenager to be able to save a reasonable amount toward college costs — so some may not see a job as worth their time.
But immigration, both legal and illegal, still plays a big part.
"The kind of jobs that they [teenagers] have done in the past are often, though not always, the jobs immigrants do," he said.
The overall labor participation rate was an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, with several commentators pointing out that although the unemployment rate had improved since the financial crisis and housing crash, the percentage of Americans not in the labor force (not working and not looking for a job) was higher than it had been in years.
"America does not have a shortage of workers. It has a shortage of jobs," Camarota said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration in March 2016.
Camarota testified that while immigrants do enlarge the economy, the economy is only minimally, if at all, enlarged in a way that benefits U.S. citizens, and that Americans with a lower level of education see their hourly wages go down.
In a March 2017 report, Camarota noted that there's been a long-term decline in the labor-force participation rate among Americans who don't have a college degree.
Only 69.6 percent of native-born Americans without a college degree were in the labor force in the first quarter of 2017. In 2007, before the recession, it was 73.8 percent, and in the first quarter of 2000 it was 76.1 percent.
With teenagers, research shows that those who aren't working at the age of 17 are a lot less likely to be working at the age of 27, says Camarota.
Unskilled immigrants may work harder than American teenagers, with more on the line — a family to support, usually, rather than just a chance to earn some extra cash — but there are costs to the country.
"You may also be socializing a lot of Americans out of work," says Camarota, "with enormous social consequences down the road."
In July of 2017, according to Bloomberg, 43 percent of 16 to 19-year-olds were either working or looking for a job — 10 percent fewer than in 2006. In 1989, 70 percent of American teenagers were working or looking for a job.
It's unknown, however, how many of those teenagers not looking for a job have given up.
"I'm 17 years old and I can't find a job," one person wrote last year on an internet help board. "How do I proceed?" The teen goes on to write: "I've applied to literally 11 different places and I call on them at least once a week. I check Craigslist daily. I have a Care account trying to get a babysitting job. I have a Snagajob account. What else can I possibly do? I'm in desperate need of money right now, and I need help."
The responses are the usual — keep applying, talk to people you know, volunteer.
But the fact that an American teenager who seems literate, energetic and resourceful can't find a minimum-wage job is a change from 30 years ago when there were always jobs for teenagers at fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.
In 1970, there were under 10 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. In 2015, there were 42 million.
Making matters worse for U.S. teens looking for work are seasonal influxes of foreigners who come to the U.S. on temporary visas — called H-2Bs. These seasonal guest workers also fill many low-wage jobs.
In 2015, a Reuters story described the recruitment of Mexicans to work on the carnival circuit in the U.S., operating rides — a low-wage, seasonal job that the writer described as one among many that "Americans don't want.