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Joe Guzzardi Immigration policy means jobless rate will remain high

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, June 11, 2011 12:00 am

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 54,000 new jobs were created in May. More than half were in the low-paying service industry. As the 14 million unemployed know all too well, the longer they're out of a job, the more time it takes them to find a new one. About 45 percent of those workers have been unemployed for six months or longer, a higher percentage than at any other time since the Great Depression.

According to Richard W. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, being unemployed feeds on itself. Said Johnson: "The longer you're unemployed, the harder it is to find a job." For workers over 62, only 18 percent who lost a job found a new one in within a year. The least lucky are the 1 million long-term unemployed whose benefits have expired.

As is frequently the case during economic downturns, the San Joaquin Valley is the most adversely impacted. A report recently released by the U.S. Labor Department found that cities in the Valley account for six of the 10 metropolitan areas with the nation's worst unemployment rates. Jobless rates range from about 14 to 18 percent, well above the California and U.S averages of 12 and 9 percent, respectively.

Of all the devastated Americans, none is more likely to abandon hope than laid off, over-50 workers whose prospects are the worst for any age group in at least five recessions. Demographers refer to them as the "involuntarily retired."

Nationwide, the average unemployed worker age 55 or older looked for a job without success for 10 months last year, the longest stretch on record. Tellingly, age-discrimination complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have risen every year since 2007.

Despite having been elected on a platform that promised 3 to 5 million new jobs, President Obama has overseen an 18-month period where 2.7 million jobs have been lost. The White House is quick to blame the Bush Administration. The GOP, on the other hand, emphasizes that Obama has done a terrible job and hasn't come close to fulfilling his campaign promise of jump-starting the economy.

The claim that Obama inherited the mess is, at least in part, valid. But it doesn't excuse Obama's inaction to correct the problem and give American workers a fair chance at the few jobs still available.

At the risk of returning to terrain I've plowed before, I raise the question of federal immigration policy. In light of relentless unemployment, on what grounds can a sustained policy of granting work permits to a million immigrants each year be defended?

Reinforcing the presence of immigrants in the workforce, the BLS, effective in January 2010, began to publish its statistical jobs analysis broken down into two categories: foreign-born and native-born. Those statistics show that, comparing May 2010 to May 2011, foreign-born employment increased during those 12 months by nearly 3 percent while native-born employment during the same period decreased by 2.5 percent.

As long as legal immigration continues at the same level, and assuming that job growth remains static, 9 percent unemployment won't be an aberration, but rather the new "full employment" rate.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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