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Fact check: Trump falsely claims almost all new jobs under Biden have gone to ‘illegal aliens’

By Tami Luhby, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump, who has promised to conduct mass deportations if he is elected to a second term in November, continued his angry rhetoric about illegal immigration at a campaign rally in Nevada in early June.

“Virtually 100% of the new jobs under Biden have also gone to illegal aliens,” Trump said.

Facts First: Trump’s claim that nearly all the new jobs under Biden have gone to immigrants, whether or not they are allowed to legally work in the US is false. The number of US-born workers increased about 3.5% between May 2021, just after Biden took office, and last month, though it did decline 0.2% over the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

It’s true that the number of foreign-born workers has increased at a much faster rate – 20% – than the rate for native-born workers during Biden’s presidency, but that doesn’t mean that the native-born are not getting jobs. Also, many economists credit the influx of immigrant workers as a main reason the US labor market has remained strong, and the unemployment rates for both immigrants and US-born workers remain low by historical standards.

First, two caveats: We don’t know how Trump is defining illegal aliens, specifically whether he’s including people who may have entered the country illegally but now have work permits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on foreign-born workers, which it defines as people who were born outside the US and neither of whose parents was a US citizen. The category covers legally-admitted immigrants including those who have become naturalized citizens, undocumented immigrants, refugees and temporary residents such as students and temporary workers, but the data doesn’t specify the groups into which people fall.

Getting back to the claim: One of the major themes of Trump’s presidential campaigns has been that undocumented immigrants are destroying America.

Here’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics data show: Some 130.4 million native-born people were employed in May. That’s an increase of nearly 4.5 million since May 2021, shortly after Biden took office, though it’s down nearly 300,000 from May 2023. (The data is not seasonally adjusted, so we must look at the same month in each year for an accurate comparison. In January 2021, about 123 million native-born people were employed.)

Roughly 30.9 million foreign-born people held jobs in May, up 5.1 million from May 2021 and 637,000 since May 2023. (In January 2021, 25.3 million of the foreign-born were employed.)

There is no comprehensive data on how many immigrants without work permits are employed, but economists at Standard Chartered Bank in May looked into what share of the recent job growth went to immigrants such as asylum seekers, humanitarian parolees and refugees who received authorization to work legally in the US. While none of these groups are working illegally in the US, as Trump referenced in his speech, the analysis provides useful insight into how many jobs these immigrants may have landed in recent years.

Standard Chartered estimated that about half the jobs added in fiscal year 2024, which began October 1, went to these immigrants. On average, more than 170,000 of these immigrants a month received initial employment authorization documents from US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the current fiscal year, according to Standard Chartered’s analysis. On average, about 64% of the foreign-born population are working, so that would translate into about 109,000 asylum seekers, humanitarian parolees and refugees finding jobs each month.

The economy has added about 230,000 jobs a month this fiscal year, so these immigrant workers would account for just under half of that growth, according to the analysis, which was conducted by Steve Englander, head of North American Macro Strategy, and Dan Pan, economist, at Standard Chartered Bank.

In fiscal year 2023, these immigrants likely held more than 800,000 of the 3.1 million jobs added, or more than 25%, the analysis estimated. Recent surges of immigration account for the increase in the share of immigrant workers in the current fiscal year, the analysts said.

The analysts note that they could be underestimating the number of such immigrants that landed jobs because they are often “heavily motivated” to work since they have limited access to public benefits.

Trump could have fairly said, as some right-leaning commentators have suggested, that the number of native-born workers has declined in the past year, while the number of foreign-born workers has increased. But that’s not true when looking over Biden’s entire term in office.

Moreover, some economists say it’s better to look at the share of people working, rather than the number, because the former takes into account population and demographic changes, such as Baby Boomers aging out of the labor force.

Some 59.3% of the native born were working last month, compared to 57.7% in May 2021, and some 64% of the foreign born had jobs last month, compared to 60.2% in May 2021. The economy was still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic shock early in Biden’s term. Both groups had even lower rates of employment in January 2021.

Still, the share of employed foreign-born men has been higher than the share of working native-born men since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 2007.

Overall, the share of men who are working has been declining for decades – a trend that has puzzled labor economists and led to many theories as to the causes, such as the decline in factory jobs, increases in technology and globalization and the rise in the number of men with criminal convictions. All these can make it more difficult for men, particularly those with fewer skills or less education, to find work.

“Foreign-born men come to this country, and they want to work,” Wendy Edelberg, director of The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. “We’ve seen declining labor force participation rates among native-born men for decades.”

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