BOHANON & CUROTT: June unemployment report helps explain crisis at border

Economic Analysis by Cecil Bohanon & Nick CurottThe June employment report gave us good news. The country’s economy saw net job creation of 224,000 for the month. This was an improvement over the May figure of just 72,000 new jobs. The May numbers raised fears of an impending economic slowdown. The June numbers reduced those fears.

Buried in the June jobs report are some statistics we found interesting. Among the foreign-born residing in the United States, the labor-force participation rate is 65.8%. The labor-force participation rate is the percentage of a given population over age 16 either having a job or actively looking for a job. For the native-born population, the labor-force participation rate is lower: 62.9%.

The unemployment rate for any group is the percentage of that group’s labor force that does not have a job. For the foreign-born, the unemployment rate is 2.7%, while it’s 4% for the native-born. Foreign-born residents in the United States are more likely to be in the labor force and more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts.

This makes us different from most nations. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is an international think tank supported by most of the developed nations. Its research indicates that, for 26 of the 33 countries for which data is available, the foreign-born unemployment rate is equal to or higher than the unemployment rate for the native-born. In 19 of the 33 nations, the foreign-born have lower labor-force participation rates than the native-born.

Sweden is a good example. In 2017, the unemployment rate among the native-born was 4.5% but an eye-popping 15.4% among the foreign-born. Moreover, 83.7% of native-born Swedes were in the labor force, while for the foreign-born the participation rate was 78.4%.

The survey the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to compile employment data in this country does not ask foreign-born workers their immigration status, so it is likely the numbers incorporate both legal and illegal foreign-born residents. The 2.7% unemployment rate among the foreign-born is a signal that work opportunities are readily available here. This, in our opinion, explains much of the crisis at our southern border. The 2.7% unemployment rate cries out to the whole wide world that a job is available here if you can get in. Like it or not, the USA is still a land of opportunity.•


Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to

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