taxesA new report by Pew Research Center about the estimated 8.1 million illegal aliens working in the U.S. tells us two important things: 1) They are significantly undercutting job opportunities for American workers in formerly middle class trades. 2) Granting amnesty to them would cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars over the course of the illegal aliens’ lifetimes.

Citing its own previous research, Pew notes that “unauthorized immigrants are far less educated, on average, than legal immigrants or the U.S.-born; they are both more likely not to have graduated high school and less likely to have attended college. That, and limits due to their status, helps explain their concentration in low-skilled occupations.” Granting them amnesty would give them legal status in the United States, but it would not change the fact that they are far less educated and therefore destined to continue to be relegated to low-skilled (and low-wage) occupations. The biggest difference is that they would become eligible for to access countless federal, state and local means-tested benefit programs and services.

The report also confirms that illegal aliens are wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of workers who used to earn solid middle class wages in blue collar trades. Illegal aliens now comprise about 14 percent of the construction industry labor force nationally. But in areas of the country experiencing construction booms, the impact is significantly greater. In California, 21 percent of construction industry jobs were held by illegal aliens. According to the Los Angeles-based Economic Roundtable, 143,900 such jobs were part of the underground economy, i.e. performed by illegal aliens. Moreover, the reliance on illegal workers is not due to a shortage of an available legal labor force. The Economic Roundtable found that between 1968 and 2012, “an annual average of 20 percent of construction workers were not employed.”

Aside from California construction trade professionals who lost out on jobs and wages, the 143,900 “underground” jobs affected just about everyone else in the state, as well as taxpayers in the rest of the country. The Roundtable’s “conservative” estimates of the annual costs include:

  • $473 million in lost tax revenue to California (not that anyone in Sacramento seems to care).
  • $301 million in lost federal tax revenue (not that anyone in the Obama administration seems to care).
  • $63 million in lost contributions to the California’s unemployment insurance fund.
  • $146 million in lost state disability insurance contributions.
  • $264 million in lost workers’ compensation contributions.

Contrary to arguments made by amnesty advocates, legalizing all these workers would not likely restore this lost revenue, or shift many of these jobs to the above ground economy. As we are already seeing, just the talk of amnesty is triggering a new wave of illegal immigration and, with virtually no threat of enforcement against employers who hire them, it is all but certain that these jobs will be filled by the next wave of illegal workers.