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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Monday, December 05, 2011

Economists: Job Effects of Alabama Immigration Unclear, May Take Years to Determine

Associated Press: Economists say it may take years and extensive research to determine whether Alabama's new law clamping down on illegal immigration helps or hurts the state's job market.

Supporters of the law have cited improving unemployment numbers in a few counties with large Hispanic populations to claim the law is helping create jobs for legal residents. Critics were bolstered by an industry report last week that showed fewer construction jobs in Alabama, presumably because the sector contracted as workers left the state because of the law.

Experts said neither claim holds much water, at least statistically.

Illegal immigrants don't show up in labor statistics because they are part of an "underground economy" and often are paid off-the-books and in cash, they said. Federal unemployment statistics are based on random telephone interviews, and people living in the country illegally typically don't have listed phone numbers so they aren't contacted.

Also, they said, employment trends typically build gradually and take time to become visible to statisticians. The law didn't take effect until Sept. 29.

Malcolm Getz, an economist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said short-term effects of the law will be masked by other things within the marketplace, like the continuing recovery of the financial industry.

"Empirical evidence on the issue will be several years off," Getz said. He suspects the law will hurt the state's economy in the long-run but said no proof is readily available.

He says those factors include the continuing recovery of the financial industry.

Keivan Deravi, of Auburn University Montgomery, said the only way to accurately assess the impact of the law is to research the state's agriculture and construction industries, which both have large numbers of immigrant workers.

"(The impact) can easily be captured if we start collecting all this anecdotal information and putting it in a database, but that has not been done yet," Deravi said.

The law's effect on employment is being watched because Republican supporters said it would free up positions for legal Alabama residents. They say unemployment should fall as illegal residents flee the state, allowing legal residents to fill in the gaps.

But legal residents aren't taking all the jobs that are being vacated. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, headed by Republican Commissioner John McMillan, plans a meeting with farmers and owners of agriculture-related businesses in Mobile on Tuesday to discuss solutions to what the agency called "chronic labor shortages created by Alabama's new immigration law."

Deravi said legal residents may fill positions once held by illegal immigrations, but any such changes would likely be small so far. The random phone surveys used to compile unemployment statistics would have only a tiny chance of finding people who got work because of the law, he said.

Part of the problem is that no one knows exactly how many illegal immigrants live in the state. Similarly, no one knows exactly how many are employed or how many might show up in companies' reports or paperwork, said Ahmad Ijaz, an economist at the University of Alabama.

"Most illegal immigrants are not included in the labor force. They generally work off the official payrolls for subcontractors or sub-subcontractors so no one really knows the exact numbers," Ijaz said. "Besides, (the) construction industry is in a recession anyway, so it will be awhile before we know once the construction industry picks back up to what the impact is."

Getz, in an interview conducted by email, said it will be difficult to ever get an accurate idea of the effects of the law.

"What changes are due to immigration policy and what is due to other events is difficult to say," he said. "Associating specific changes to immigration policy when many forces are at play is speculative. Careful analysis won't be possible for a number of years."

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