Unemployed Americans Competing With Immigrant Labor for Unskilled Jobs

Published December 20, 2008

| Wall Street Journal

A year ago, a day-laborer center adjacent to a Home Depot here teemed with Latin American immigrants who showed up and found a sure day's work painting, gardening or hauling.

These days, more than immigrants are packing the Hollywood Community Job Center: Unemployed Americans are joining them. There's little work for anybody.

"Everybody is coming to look for work," Rene Jemio, outreach coordinator for the hiring hall, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's not just your average immigrant anymore; it's African-Americans and whites, too."

For the first time in a decade, unskilled immigrants are competing with Americans for work. And evidence is emerging that tens of thousands of Hispanic immigrants are withdrawing from the labor market as U.S. workers crowd them out of potential jobs. At least some of the foreigners are returning home.

"We see competition from more nonimmigrant workers," says Abel Valenzuela, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies day laborers. "Employers are also paying less than in previous years," he says.

In the third quarter of 2008, 71.3 percent of Latino immigrant workers were either employed or actively seeking work, compared with 72.4 percent in the same quarter a year earlier, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization. The 1.1-percentage-point drop "marks a substantial decrease in the labor-market participation of Latino immigrants," says Rakesh Kochhar, the Pew economist who prepared the report.

Since 2003, the labor force participation rate — the employed or job-seeking share of the population — among foreign-born Hispanics had been consistently on the rise. The decline in the third quarter of 2008 "is a testament to the character and depth of the current recession triggered by the housing slump," says the Pew report.

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