Perry’s Ambiguous Employment Record
Who benefited from job growth in Texas?


Texas governor Rick Perry has pointed to job growth in Texas during the current economic downturn as one of his main accomplishments. But in a new report for the Center for Immigration Studies, based on data collected monthly by the Census Bureau, we found that newly arrived immigrants (legal and illegal) have been the primary beneficiaries of this growth between 2007 and 2011, not native-born workers.

We found that of jobs created in Texas since 2007, 81 percent (225,000) were taken by newly arrived foreign workers (legal and illegal). The Census Bureau asks immigrants to say when they came to the United States, so it is easy to look at new arrivals who took jobs. Of newly arrived immigrants who took a job in Texas, the data show that 93 percent were not U.S. citizens. We estimate that about half of newly arrived immigrants who took jobs in Texas since 2007 were illegal immigrants. This means that about 40 percent of all the job growth in Texas between 2007 and 2011 went to newly arrived illegal immigrants and 40 percent went to newly arrived legal immigrants.

What is so surprising about these numbers is that so much of the job growth in the state went to immigrants even though the native-born accounted for 69 percent of the growth in Texas’s working-age population (16 to 65). Put another way, even though natives made up most of the growth in potential workers, most of the job growth went to immigrants. As a result, the employment rate for natives — the share of working-age natives holding a job in the state — declined in a manner very similar to that seen in the rest of the country. This is an indication that the situation for native-born workers in Texas is very similar to that of the nation as a whole, despite the state’s job growth.

The employment rate declined significantly, from 71.1 percent in 2007 to 66.6 percent in 2011. In my view, and that of many labor economists, the decline in the employment rate is more troubling than the rise in the unemployment rate. Unemployment counts only those who have looked for work in the last four weeks. It does not include those who have not looked recently, nor does it include those who have given up looking for work.

Now, I realize that there is always the post-national perspective held by some libertarians that says, “Who cares who gets the jobs?” But in my view this is not how most Americans think about the issue. For most of us, it matters a great deal that three-fourths of job growth in the state went to newly arrived non-citizens at the same time as the employment situation for the native-born deteriorated dramatically. It raises the very real question of whether we are being well served by allowing so many new immigrants into the county.

The United States continues to allow in more than 1 million permanent legal immigrants each year, plus several hundred thousand additional guest workers. And although my research and that of others shows that the number of new illegal immigrants has declined significantly, hundreds of thousands of new illegal immigrants still settle in the country each year, and the total illegal population stands at close to 11 million, according to the government.

As for Rick Perry, the above numbers matter because he has a track record on immigration, and as president he would play a huge role in setting legal immigration levels and enforcing immigration laws. Perry has repeatedly sung the praises of high levels of legal immigration; he opposes the border fence and signed into law a bill that gave in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. He also opposes using E-Verify, an electronic system to confirm workers’ legal status. For these reasons, NumbersUSA has given him a D-minus on his immigration record and positions. In fairness to Perry, this grade places him in the middle of the Republican pack, and NumbersUSA also gives President Obama an F-minus.

Some may argue that it was the arrival of immigrants in Texas that stimulated what job growth there was for natives. But if immigration stimulates job growth for natives, the numbers in Texas should look very different. The unemployment rate and the employment rate of natives in Texas show a dramatic deterioration during the recession that is similar to the rest of the country. Among the native-born, for the second quarter of 2011, Texas ranked 22nd in terms of unemployment and 29th in terms of its employment rate for the native-born.