On Tuesday, the labor department came out with its latest figures on job openings in the U.S. At the end of July, there were a record 6.17 million open positions, up from 5.97 million at the end of July 2016. It is ironic that this measure of employers’ inability to fill posts came out exactly a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the alleged scarcity of jobs to justify rescinding the protection afforded to the 800,000 Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who arrived here as small children, who the government has allowed to remain and work here. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was bad, he said, because “it also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
Sessions betrayed not only a cruel, zero-sum view of the economy but a shocking misunderstanding of the current job market. Today, in the 99th month of the current expansion, at a time when the unemployment rate is 4.4 percent and the economy has added payroll jobs for 83 straight months, there are a bunch of reasons why you might be unemployed. DACA is almost certainly not one of them.
It’s possible that a worker overseas took your job because your company decided your position could be done more cheaply somewhere else—say, in Mexico or China.
It’s possible that a robot or a string of code operating in the U.S. took your job, as is happening at some warehouses and fast-food restaurants.
It’s possible that norms, laws, and regulations stand in the way of you getting a job. For example, most companies ask prospective applicants whether they have been convicted of crimes—and many have formal or informal policies of not offering positions to ex-cons. In addition, per the Council of State Governments, “The American Bar Association has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions nationwide for people with a criminal record.” For a host of reasons, many companies ask prospective employees to take drug tests. Due to the continuing opioid crisis, a rising number of people are effectively excluded from the labor force. The CEO of a manufacturer in Ohio in July told Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times that a quarter of applicants fail drug tests—and hence are ineligible to be hired.
It’s possible that you are what might be called geographically unemployed—i.e., you live in a place where there aren’t many opportunities (like Rome, Georgia, where the unemployment rate is 6.3 percent) but don’t have the means, ability, or desire to move to a place where jobs are more plentiful (like Fort Collins, Colorado, where the unemployment rate is 2.1 percent).
It’s possible you might not have the skills or training to find a job. To hear industry tell it, America is suffering from shortages in a range of disciplines that require specialized training or education. There’s a shortage of nurses, qualified insurance inspectors, truck drivers, and teachers, for example.
It’s possible that you might be unemployed because employers lack the ability or desire to employ you—that is to say, they’re unwilling to offer wages, conditions, or working hours that make it sufficiently attractive or compelling enough for you to accept an offer.
Each of the phenomena I’ve described is real. Each contributes to the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the U.S. Do immigrants (documented and undocumented), new labor force entrants, college graduates, mothers returning to work, old people unretiring, people leaving the military and entering civilian life compete for you to get a specific job? For sure. Is it possible that you are not working at a particular position today because someone—possibly a Dreamer—was hired for a particular position instead of you? Yes.
But their presence alone isn’t denying you a job. The 800,000 Dreamers are a tiny drop in the overall labor bucket in the United States. Every large company that has hired Dreamers has dozens, if not hundreds, of openings it is trying to fill. It is mathematically and physically impossible for the 800,000 Dreamers to displace a large number of American workers at a time when unemployment is 4.3 percent and companies are seeking to fill 6.2 million jobs.
So if Dreamers aren’t stealing jobs, Sessions must have some other reason to want them gone from this country. What ever could it be?