Expert Commentary

Impact of low-skilled immigration on the youth labor market

2012 study in the Journal of Labor Economics at the University of Chicago on the relationship between youth unemployment and immigration.

Immigration has long been a potent political and social issue in the United States. Never far from the top of the news cycle, debate simmers on issues such as its impact on vulnerable workers and the contributions of skilled immigrants. Moreover, scholars continue to study related dynamics such as how national coverage of the issue can spark local opposition.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Labor Economics, “The Impact of Low-Skilled Immigration on the Youth Labor Market,” looks at the relationship between rises in the immigrant labor pool and youth unemployment rates. The University of Chicago researcher analyzed four decades of U.S. Census and American Community Survey data to measure employment for native-born residents and immigration across local labor markets.

The study’s findings include:

  • For each 10% rise in the number of employed immigrants with no more than a high school diploma in the labor market, high school students reduced their annual number of hours worked by 3%.
  • For the same 10% increase in low-skilled immigrant employment, adults experienced only a 1% decline in the number of hours they worked.
  • The labor supply of teenagers is three to five times more responsive to immigration-induced wage changes than that of native adults. This effect partially explains the larger reduction of annual hours worked by teens.
  • Teenagers are more than twice as likely as adults to work in the 20 most popular jobs among immigrants, particularly food services.

“Growth in immigration appears to have reduced youth employment-population ratios over the past few decades, although other factors surely played a role,” the researcher writes. “In particular, teen employment and participation rates fell during the previous three recessions and never fully recovered, suggesting that business cycle dynamics may result in permanent shifts to labor supply or labor demand as well.”

Related research suggests that, because of a variety of additional factors, unemployment for disadvantaged youth in America remains a highly problematic issue — and results in sizable long-term societal costs.

Tags: youth, Hispanic, Latino

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