The Perry Problem

Last week was a tough week for Texas Governor Rick Perry, who had surged to the front of the GOP presidential line when he announced his bid on August 13. His Orlando debate performance was panned by critics, making it the third straight debate where Perry underwhelmed on a national stage. In that Orlando debate's aftermath, Perry's “all-in” strategy at the Presidency 5 straw poll failed. Observers were stunned when Herman Cain, heretofore considered a second-tier candidate, instead walked off with the Florida prize, beating Perry by a better than 2 to 1 margin.

But there was another damning piece on Perry last week which has mostly escaped notice. While it's beyond question that Rick Perry's immigration stance wouldn't win him any friends at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group which favors stricter limits on who and how many are allowed into the country, the numbers they ran state a case that most of the thousands of jobs created in Texas in spite of  the national recession are going to the immigrant population (legal and illegal) rather than native-born Americans.

The CIS study had a relatively simple methodology: compare the commonly available employment numbers in the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey at two points in time (2007 and 2011)  based on whether respondents are working and whether they are newly arrived in the country or not. It's also interesting to note the CIS survey only asked about immigrants arriving in 2007 or later, a time period where the much-criticized Texas policy of in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants had been in place for several years.

Their probe found that while the unemployment rate in Texas for native workers had doubled from 4.0% to 8.1% over the four-year study period, the total number of immigrants working in the state had jumped by nearly 7 percent. They concluded that over 80 percent of the new jobs taken in Texas had gone to newly-arrived immigrant workers, whether legal or illegal. Using accepted methodology, they presumed about 40% of the new jobs had been taken by illegal immigrants.

One can argue with the process the CIS used to arrive at their conclusions, and I had a hard time working through their fuzzy math, too. Yet the same figures the CIS used yield interesting results for other states in the region. In Oklahoma, where the unemployment rate among native-born workers only increased from 4.7 percent to 5.5 percent, the number of immigrants working jumped by almost 26 percent – yet the state adopted a get-tough policy on illegal immigration in late 2007, shortly after the study's time period began.