A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

All U.S. Jobs Did Not Go to Immigrants


Rick Santorum touted a shocking statistic to Iowa voters: Of the “6 million net new jobs created in America” since 2000, “all of them” are held by immigrants. That’s not accurate. Santorum ignores the 2.6 million job gains by native-born Americans over the age of 65 in the same time period.

Santorum also said, “We’re approaching percentage-wise the highest level of immigrants that we’ve ever had in America.” Perhaps, but we’re approaching it from a distance. The peak was in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was foreign-born. Census figures show 13.1 percent was foreign-born in 2013.

The former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who is preparing for a second presidential campaign made his claims on Jan. 24 at the Iowa Freedom Summit. On job creation, he said:

Santorum, Jan. 24: Since 2000 there have been 6 million net new jobs created in America. … How many of those net new jobs are held by people who were not born in this country? All of them.

Santorum’s claim comes from a June 2014 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower levels of immigration. CIS used the Current Population Survey, data collected by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to determine: “The total number of working-age (16 to 65) immigrants (legal and illegal) holding a job increased 5.7 million from the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2014, while declining 127,000 for natives.”

The CPS, also called the household survey, asks about 60,000 households about their employment status as well as demographic information. The total job figures mirror those in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll survey, which surveys about 550,000 work sites, and shows about 6.5 million net job growth from the first three months of 2000 to the first three months of 2014. Those numbers include all employees, even those over age 65.

In fact, the CIS report says that the job growth numbers for the native-born improve substantially when the over-65 age group is included, a cohort in which the proportion with jobs was growing in recent years while the proportion of younger workers with jobs wasn’t, as shown in these 2012 BLS charts produced by the New York Times.

A footnote in the CIS report says: “[L]ooking at all workers 16-plus shows that natives over age 65 did make employment gains. As a result, there are 2.6 million more natives of all ages working in 2014 than in 2000.” The immigrant net job gains for all workers was 6.2 million, as shown in the data CIS used. This makes Santorum’s claim simply not true. All of the net job growth since 2000 didn’t go to immigrants.

And changing the starting point makes a difference. The report he’s citing says from 2010 to 2014, 43 percent of net job growth went to the foreign-born, among those age 16 to 65. From the first quarter in 2010 to the first quarter in 2014, the native-born gained 3 million jobs and immigrants gained 2.3 million, among the 16-to-65 age group, according to CIS’ data chart. If we look at all workers age 16 and up, native-born workers saw a net gain of 4.4 million jobs, while the foreign-born saw a gain of 2.5 million during that time.

Immigrants, however, have recovered more quickly from the Great Recession than native-born Americans. The foreign-born job numbers for all workers are up 567,000 since the fourth quarter of 2007, the start of the recession, while the native-born job numbers are down by 3 million.

The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project also has analyzed the Current Population Survey data, finding that native-born workers didn’t begin to recover from the recession until the second half of 2010. In the first year after the recession, which ended in June 2009, the native-born had lost jobs while the foreign-born posted job gains. In a March 2012 report on the jobs recovery, the Pew Research Center’s Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research, wrote that the difference in recovery came down to demographics: The faster rate of job growth for immigrants reflected their faster growth in working-age population.

Pew Research Center, March 21, 2012, “The Demographics of the Jobs Recovery”: The difference in the rate of growth in employment between native-born and foreign-born workers is roughly in line with the difference in the growth in their working-age populations during the recovery. From 2009 to 2011, the native-born working-age population increased 1.4% (2.9 million)and the foreign-born population increased 3.8% (1.3 million). Thus, the distribution of new jobs in the recovery across nativity groups — 35% foreign born; 65% native born — was in keeping with the changes in the population — 32% foreign born; 68% native born.

In testimony to Congress in 2011, Kochhar gave other possible reasons for immigrant workers recovering from the recession more quickly: They are more flexible in terms of moving location or occupation for work; immigration patterns reflect the economy, with the population of foreign-born increasing in times of economic expansion; and immigrants’ employment patterns tend to be more volatile, with sharper drops and steeper recovery.

The unemployment rate for the native-born is 5.4 percent and for the foreign-born, 5.3 percent, according to the December 2014 figures.

The foreign-born, or immigrant, population includes anyone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen at birth. That means the immigrant population includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary migrants, refugees and those who entered the country illegally. Santorum spoke about job growth while criticizing the levels of both illegal and legal immigration.

Percentage of Foreign-Born

In his speech in Iowa, Santorum also gave a new version of a claim on the foreign-born that we checked in November. But his figures are still off.

Santorum: We’re approaching percentage-wise the highest level of immigrants that we’ve ever had in America. Almost 14 percent now. It was 14.2 at the end of the great wave in 1920. There are more people not born in this country than have ever been in the history of the country.

In November, Santorum said only: “There are more people living in this country who were not born here than at any other time in the history of the country.” We pointed out that it was accurate in raw numbers, but percentage-wise the foreign-born made up a larger share of the population from 1860 to 1920.

This time, Santorum phrased his claim in terms of percentages, but the U.S. is still a good distance from having the highest level of immigrants in history.

U.S. Census figures show that 12.9 percent of the country’s population was foreign-born in 2010, and Census data from 2013 show that has edged up to 13.1 percent. That is close to the previous high, in 1920, when 13.2 percent of the population was foreign-born. But there were even higher percentages in the years before that.

The high point was in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was foreign-born. And in 1910, those who weren’t born in the U.S. made up 14.7 percent of the population.

In terms of raw numbers, there were 41 million foreign-born in the U.S. in 2013, and 46.7 percent of them were naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the Census. The estimated number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally is 11.3 million, according to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project.

— Lori Robertson