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Immigrants gaining jobs, native-born Americans aren't

Since the recession's end in June 2009, legal and illegal immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs, while native-born Americans lost 1.2 million, says a Pew Hispanic Center report.

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In public opinion polls, Americans express ambivalence. They strongly favor tighter curbs on illegal immigration, yet in a May Associated Press/Univision survey 62 percent agreed with the statement "Illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans don't want."

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Some economists caution against the view that immigrants detract from opportunities for native-born Americans.

Immigrants may actually boost average incomes for native-born population, while having no significant effect on native-born rates of employment, argues Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis.

"Data show that, on net, immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity," he writes in an August report for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. He found "no evidence that these effects take place at the expense of jobs for workers born in the United States."

Still, many economists say that more immigrants in the labor force mean tougher times for native-born workers at the bottom end of the labor market, who are younger or less-skilled.

"We're developing a very large population of less-educated young people ... who have relatively little experience with work," says Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, another research group in Washington.

He estimates that 13 million immigrants arrived in the US over the past decade, about half of them illegal.

The story of the past decade is similar to that of the past year, he says: Immigrant employment has generally increased, while the overall job market failed to add jobs for native-born Americans. (What researchers can't say for sure is how the job market for native-born Americans would have fared with less immigration.)

Many illegal immigrants left the US during the recession, as jobs in construction and other industries dried up. Now, Mr. Camarota says, that exodus has stopped. And the Pew center concludes that "the economic recovery may be attracting immigrant workers back into the U.S."