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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Texas Employment: When Do Conservatives Consider Illegal Immigration a “Good Problem to Have”?

A commenter on my Massachusetts article says I could have saved myself “a decent amount of time and embarrassment” by relying on data from Political Math. As other commenters pointed out, Matthias Shapiro's post was not addressed at anything but job numbers, and hence had not undermined anything I said about income, violent crime rates, uninsurance rates, infant mortality rates, poverty rates, educational attainment, etc.

Shapiro's argument is that we should primarily be judging Texas vs. other states on its job creation. Especially in light of Ross Douthat's endorsement of Shapiro's numbers in his column Monday, it's important to investigate Shapiro's figures. In fact, his post is marred by the failure to see the difference between immigration and labor force growth, and by the fact that nowhere does he tell us how few jobs Texas created relative to its labor force growth.

In my view, Shapiro is overly impressed with Texas's employment growth, saying, “With Texas, we say, 'Damn. Looks like they've recovered already.'” Part of the problem is that Shapiro has confused labor force growth with population growth. He says “people are flocking to Texas in massive numbers,” yet gives no data on migration, only on the size of the labor force. Indeed, the number of people he says “have fled into Texas,” 739,000, exactly matches the growth of the labor force from December 2007 to June 2011 in his Bureau of Labor Statistics data source ( then, as Shapiro says, “select the state or states you want, then select "Statewide", then select the states again, then select the metrics you want to see.”). A state's labor force can grow for reasons other than in-migration, such as higher birth rates or people moving out of the discouraged worker category back into the labor force by looking for work. Moreover, migration includes lots of non-labor force members, such as dependents. In any case, as Matt Yglesias shows, Texas' population has grown pretty consistently at close to 2% per year for the last 10 years. He points out, “ good times Texas adds jobs faster than people, whereas in bad times it adds people faster than jobs.” That's the way it is today.

But it is Shapiro's “personal favorite chart” in his post that is the least meaningful. In it, he divides the June 2011 number of jobs by the December 2007 labor force to come up with a notional “unemployment rate” that supposedly corrects for between-state migration. Of course, he does not have data for interstate migration, but only for changes in the state's labor force. This ignores migrants who aren't in the labor force, like dependents, which adds to actual interstate migration; while also ignoring Texas' higher birth rate, movement from the discouraged worker category to the labor force, and, illegal immigration, all of which would have to be subtracted from the 739,000 increase in the labor force to get actual between-state migration of workers.

Besides not actually measuring (and hence not correcting for) interstate migration of workers, the chart is meaningless because it advantages states that attract unemployed workers. What's so great about attracting unemployed workers to the state? Even though they won't collect Texas unemployment insurance since they weren't employed there, these workers' children go to school, their families will receive uncompensated care at emergency rooms, they drive down wages, some will commit crimes, etc.: There are plenty of costs to the state to attracting unemployed people. Yet Shapiro says of adding 739,000 people to the labor force (not mentioning that it only added 246,000 jobs) from December 2007 to June 2011: “Anyone who takes that data and pretends that it is somehow bad news for Texas is simply not being honest. At the worst, I'd call it a good problem to have.”

Really? Adding almost half a million unemployed workers to the labor force is good news for Texas? The state added two unemployed people for every new job holder in the labor force. And when is the last time a conservative said illegal immigration was a good problem to have? Yet that's what Shapiro has committed himself to, since a good portion of the increase in Texas' labor force has been through illegal immigration.

Far from proving the strength of Texas' job performance, the job creation vs. labor force growth numbers show just the opposite.

1 comment:

  1. Seeking logic and consistency, let alone any regard for the actual facts, from a conservative has long been a fools errand. Yet another example of the sad decline of American conservatism into insanity. I am old enough to remember a conservatism that, while misguided and based on flawed assumptions, was intellectually coherent, logical, and empirically based.