June 1, 2018


Why Low-Skilled Immigrants Work Especially Hard: The main reason that low-skilled immigrant men work more often than other low-skilled men is that these immigrants have made better personal decisions. (David J. Bier, November 7, 2016, Cato at Liberty)

For as far back as we have data, immigrant men without high school degrees in their prime years (25-54) have held jobs far more often than similar native-born men. Moreover, the gap in employment between the average low-skilled immigrant man and the similar native-born man is growing. In 1995, there was an 18 percentage point difference in the employment rates of the two groups. By 2014, the difference was 31 points.

1. Low-skilled immigrant men look for work. The single most important reason that immigrants perform better than lower-skilled natives is that they actually search for jobs in the labor market. As Figure 2 shows, more than 1 in 3 low-skilled native-born men in their primes are not even looking for jobs, compared to just 1 in 13 immigrant men. The gap is also growing. In 1995, there was a 17 percentage point difference between the share of low-skilled immigrant men and low-skilled native-born men who were out of the workforce entirely. By 2014, the difference had reached 25 points. It's hard to get a job without first looking.

2. Low-skilled immigrants use less welfare. As a 2013 paper by the Cato Institute demonstrated, poor immigrants use significantly less welfare than poor native-born citizens. Moreover, as I have shown previously, immigrant labor force participation rates grew in response to the welfare reform that Congress passed in 1996. The 1996 law barred all noncitizens from welfare, except for legal permanent residents who had been in the country for more than five years. This incentivized them to seek jobs, and during this time, overall immigrant employment rates surpassed the native-born rates. This surge in employment caused their income to rise so much that their rates of poverty actually declined. Native-born men have faced much less pressure to reenter the labor market.

3. Low-skilled immigrant men commit far fewer crimes. Immigrant men are much less likely to be incarcerated than similar native-born men. Figure 3 provides the incarceration rates for native and foreign-born men ages 18 to 39, and in every Census year since 1980, the foreign-born rate is half or less than half the native-born rate. This is also true for high school dropouts from the top sending countries for unauthorized immigrants. Almost 1 in 9 native-born men ages 18 to 39 without a high school degree were incarcerated in 2010, compared to just 1 in 59 Mexican-born men. Criminal records and unemployment resulting from incarceration provide serious obstacles to the ability of native-born men to find employment.

Posted by at June 1, 2018 9:04 AM