Study: Latino immigrants shielded U.S. workers from job cuts

Aug. 7, 2013 at 3:00 AM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Low-skilled Mexican-born U.S. workers shielded low-skilled U.S.-born workers from job losses during the Great Recession by returning to Mexico, a study found.

The lesser-skilled immigrant workers were much more ready to move for jobs elsewhere when the economy soured than comparably skilled U.S.-born workers, the study by the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research indicated.

"Natives living in cities with many similarly skilled Mexicans were thus insulated from local shocks, as the departure of Mexican workers absorbed part of the demand decline," wrote study authors Brian C. Cadena of the University of Colorado-Boulder and Brian K. Kovak of Carnegie Mellon University.

"Therefore, Mexican mobility serves to equalize labor-market outcomes across the country and partially obviates the need for natives to move," the economist authors said in the paper, which can be found at

The researchers indicated they weren't surprised that, generally speaking, highly skilled U.S.-born workers -- identified as native-born men with at least some college education -- are "quite geographically responsive to employment opportunities while low-skilled populations are much less so."

A 10 percentage-point decline in a city's employment rate from 2006 to 2010 led to a 5.3 percentage-point drop in the local population from highly skilled workers moving elsewhere.

The researchers found no measurable population change among less-skilled natives, identified as men with a high school degree or less.

But what did surprise them was that low-skilled Mexican-born men were generally more likely than even highly skilled native workers to leave for a job opportunity.

A 10 percentage-point employment drop prompted a 7.6 percentage-point drop in population from low-skilled immigrants, mostly Mexicans, the researchers said.

"The fact that less-skilled Mexican-born immigrants respond so strongly is, to our knowledge, a novel finding," they wrote.

"Immigrants thus play a crucial and understudied role in increasing the overall geographic responsiveness of less-skilled laborers in the U.S., and this result adds a new dimension to the existing literature that focuses on workers' responsiveness to demand shocks based on education and demographics," they said.

Foreign-born low-skilled workers are more likely to move away than native-born low-skilled workers because the foreign-born workers are less likely to qualify for unemployment insurance and other social safety net programs, the study said.

The study also cited the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey of 97 U.S. cities from 2006-2010.

Mexican-born workers were generally more likely to say they relocated for a job, whereas native workers often relocated for other reasons, such as family, the census survey found.

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