Two powerful economic and demographic trends are drawing illegal immigrants over the border into the work force.
On the demand side, the U.S. economy is creating hundreds of thousands of low-skilled jobs every year, according to analysts with the Cato Institute, a nonprofit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The largest growth jobs: retail sales clerks, janitors, waiters and waitresses, food preparation workers, health care aides, laborers, stockers and landscapers.
On the supply side, the pool of native-born Americans who traditionally held low-skilled jobs is simultaneously decreasing and becoming better educated.
Cato researcher Daniel Griswold noted in a May report that as the baby boomer generation moves through middle age and into retirement, the median age of American workers is approaching 41.6 years, the oldest for U.S. workers in history.
Furthermore, native-born Americans are preparing themselves for higher-quality and higher-skilled jobs. In the early 1960s, 50 percent of native-born Americans in the work force didn’t have high school diplomas. By 2004, only 6.6 percent lacked high school diplomas.
The effect of the shadow work force of illegal immigrants is mixed, said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., one of the chief architects of the Senate’s proposed immigration reform legislation.
“During the time of high construction in the homebuilding industry, for example, we really needed those workers, illegal workers. Homebuilders estimated that 50 to 60 percent of their work force was illegal,” he said.
“I don’t think that there is any question that they make a contribution on the agricultural fields in Yuma County,” Kyl said.
However, illegal immigration also creates huge financial burdens, particularly for law enforcement, border security and health care, he said.
“All of the expenses to society outweigh, in my view, the benefit of illegal immigration,” he said.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research and educational institute based in Washington, discussed those expenses while testifying before a U.S. House subcommittee on May 17.
In 2004, the average household headed by a low-skilled immigrant received $30,160 in education and other services from all levels of government, he said. In contrast, those households paid only $10,573 in taxes, meaning they created deficits of $19,588 each.