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Immigration Mythbusting: Myth #2

To effectively challenge anti-immigrant sentiment and policies, we need to expose misinformation when we find it. This series debunks the most common misunderstandings (‘myths’) that contribute to discriminatory claims about immigrants in the U.S.

Myth No. 2: ‘Immigrants are taking American jobs’

Fact: Economists and analysts have shown, time and again, that immigration has very little to do with unemployment rates in the U.S. The myth of immigrants taking jobs is based on two mistaken beliefs, according to historian Aviva Chomsky. The first is that the more immigrants live in the U.S., the less jobs there will be for American citizens. The second is the very idea of ‘American jobs’.

In fact, the number of jobs available in the U.S. is not finite. As new immigrants arrive, new jobs are created. Population growth creates jobs while simultaneously providing more workers to fill jobs. New immigrants work, they also consume — they shop at grocery stores, purchase cars, buy school clothes for their children and utilize healthcare services. This benefits their communities. But when the population declines in a community, shops, offices, businesses, and schools close. This pattern is evident and consistent across diverse regions: expanding communities experience dynamic economies and growing job markets. Depopulating communities experience a shrinking economy and diminishing numbers of jobs.

History provides some useful illustrations. The U.S. experienced a high rate of immigration in the late 1800's that continued for nearly 20 years. This was also a period of consistently low unemployment rates. The immigration boom came to an end with the start of World War I in 1914, and restrictive immigration policies were enacted in 1917, 1921, and 1924. By the Great Depression of the 1930’s, immigration to the U.S. had mostly come to a stand-still, but unemployment rates soared to 20% and higher. The Great Depression likely wouldn’t have been so devastating, and the recovery would have occurred more rapidly, had legislation in earlier years not dramatically slowed immigration to the U.S.

The concept of ‘American jobs’ has become extremely muddled in today’s neoliberal, globally-integrated economy. “As early as the 1940s,” Chomsky explains, “the U.S. government was collaborating with businesses on ways to recreate the low-wage, high-profit system that organized workers and labor unions had fought so hard to transform. For example, with Operation Bootstrap’ in Puerto Rico, the U.S. government began offering companies incentives to outsource their labor needs to areas with lower labor costs. The Border Industrialization Program of the 1960s and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) initiated in 1994 have continued this federal policy of exporting labor-intensive work outside the U.S.

Bottom line: ‘American’ jobs aren’t being taken by immigrants. They are being outsourced to poorer countries where corporations are able to increase their profits by paying lower wages and offering fewer protections to an easily exploitable workforce.


· CATO Institute, Why Unemployment is Lower When Immigration is Higher, 2016

· Chomsky, A. ‘They Take Our Jobs!’ and 20 Other Myths about Immigration, 2018.

· Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA’s Impact on US Workers, 2013.

Caption: Immigration Rates (1820 to 2014) and Unemployment Rates (1890 to 2014)

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