Trump blames immigrants for taking ‘Black jobs.’ Top economists debunk long-held arguments like it

GettyImages 2159613585 e1719608340533

Last night, former President Donald Trump made a comment about “Black jobs” that drew ire, mockery, and laughter from Black Americans on social media. 

During Thursday’s presidential debate, Trump said that President Joe Biden’s “big kill” on Black people was allowing an influx of immigrants through the border. 

“They’re taking Black jobs now—and it could be 18, it could be 19 and even 20 million people,” Trump said. “They’re taking Black jobs, and they’re taking Hispanic jobs, and you haven’t seen it yet, but you’re gonna see something that’s going to be the worst in our history.”

Michelle Holder, a renowned labor economist who studies racial inequities, said she was dismayed and confused by the term.

“It was insulting to me, as a Black labor economist, to hear the term ‘black jobs,’” she told Fortune. She added that the comment, which was supposed to appeal to Black voters, likely “backfired.”

Black workers have fared well under both the Trump and Biden administrations. The Black unemployment rate remains at historic lows. In September 2019, under Trump, the unemployment rate for the group fell to 5.3%, a record low at the time. Under Biden, it dropped even further to a new low of 4.8% in April 2023. 

Today, Black unemployment has risen slightly, to 6.1%, ticking up along with the national rate, which is at 4%.

Meanwhile, the share of Black Americans with jobs—at 59.1%—is still near a peak of 60.4% set last year.

Despite the progress, the quote echos a long-held argument: An influx of immigration takes jobs away from native-born workers, or, at the very least, depresses their wages. Fortune asked Lant Pritchett, a leading immigration economist who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School and researches at University of Oxford, about this. He said that among economists, the question is “pretty settled.” 

Immigration does not take away native jobs

There is “almost no evidence” of an influx of immigration displacing disadvantaged workers, Pritchett said. He pointed to the study UC Berkeley economist David Card won a Nobel Prize for, which analyzed the impact of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift that brought hundreds of thousands of Cubans to Miami in a manner of months. Card found “no effect on the wages or unemployment rates of less-skilled workers.” If anything, wages rose relative to their previous trend in Miami. 

The result was so surprising that economists analyzed the study again and again, attempting to understand how the real-life result defied economic principles. Card replicated the study with different cities, and another time with different types of immigrants, and found the same conclusion. Other economists found the same results in their own studies. 

“The main thing that’s gone on in this immigration literature in the last few years is that we’ve kind of concluded that there’s a relatively small effect of it for competing natives,” Card said in a previous interview

Then, in 2017, Harvard economist George Borjas replicated the study with a smaller definition of “low-skilled” workers and found their wages collapsed. The result drew attention from the Atlantic, National Review, and New Yorker, among others, and was heralded by Republicans. 

The study also found that Black workers’ wages fell, but Card cast doubt on the findings

“​​I have followed this closely, but my sense is that other people who have looked into this in detail are not convinced,” he told Fortune in a message on Friday. 

Pritchett is one of them. He referred to an analysis done by another economist, Michael Clemens, who found that Borjas’s study relied on only 17 individuals, much too small of a sample size to be relied on. He said that the hype around Borjas’s work came from those with an anti-immigrant bias who were willing to cherry-pick data to prove it. 

“If you started from the question, what are things that are disadvantaging African Americans in economic progress, and you came to the conclusion that immigration was one of the big factors, I would listen to you,” Pritchett said. “But if you start from a position, I’m against immigration and have been in all ways, and then come to the conclusion that it negatively affects African Americans, I’m pretty skeptical.” 

The need for more workers

 Pritchett’s research suggests that America will soon desperately need millions of workers to cover a “historically unprecedented” gap in the labor force.

America—like most wealthy countries—has an aging population and could soon be faced with fewer workers. Over the decade of 2020 to 2030, the U.S. working-aged population will fall by 4.5 million people without immigration, according to a United Nations report. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that between 2021 and 2031, there will be 3.2 million net new jobs in entry-level positions. 

“That math cannot be made to add up,” Pritchett said with a chuckle. “You can’t fill 3 million new jobs with negative 4 million people.”

The policy challenge used to be to find a job for every worker. Now, the U.S. will struggle to find a worker for every job, Pritchett said. 

Some experts have already suggested that immigrants are “saving” the U.S. from a taut labor market. Between January 2020 and July 2023, the immigrant labor force grew by 9.5%, dwarfing the 1.5% growth rate among native-born workers. 

What are the economic issues that do concern Black americans?

The most concerning issues for Black Americans, Holder said, are wages, inflation, and unemployment. 

Black unemployment reached a historic low last year, she said. Can we sustain these current economic conditions? And, how are those jobs paying Black Americans? 

Rather than using immigration to stoke fear, she wants Trump to answer those questions. 

“That’s what I think Black voters want to hear about,” Holder said. “I just don’t think we are really wrapped up in trying to blame migrants for any problems facing the Black community at this point.” 

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top