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March 18, 2003
Despite Slowdown, Employment Grows among Immigrants
There were considerable employment gains among immigrants while employment levels of native-born workers declined steeply from 2000 to 2002, according to a new study from Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.

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Despite sharp unemployment increases among both native-born and immigrant workers, an additional 593,000 immigrants found work in the U.S. between 2000 and 2002 even as employment levels among the native born dropped by 1.5 million. Strong labor force growth among the foreign born fueled their employment increases, despite rising unemployment overall, according to the study.

"While unemployment among immigrants rose sharply, the surprising, continued rapid growth in the immigrant labor force was so great that it was able to expand their overall employment levels, despite a deterioration in labor market conditions over the past two years," says Andrew Sum, director of the center. "Unfortunately, some of these gains clearly came at the expense of less educated native-born workers."

Labor economists have long recognized that the number of persons who enter the nation's labor force tends to slow as market conditions weaken, the authors of the study say. Young adults more often choose to continue or return to school instead of pursue work opportunities while some older workers often choose to withdraw from active labor participation after becoming unemployed. The report reveals that native-born workers followed the expected pattern of slowing labor force growth during the recession and jobless recovery, but foreign-born workers did not.

The job losses among native-born workers were heavily concentrated outside of the college graduate labor market. Employment among native-born college graduates increased by nearly 900,000 over the past two years, according to the study. By contrast, employment levels among native-born high school dropouts and those only with a high school diploma fell nearly 1.9 million since 2000.

“A substantial overcrowding has occurred at the bottom of the labor market, where an already existing excess supply of less educated workers is continuing to grow through the rapid growth in the immigrant labor force,” says Economist Paul Harrington, co-author of the report and associate director of the Center for Labor Market Studies.


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