The New York Labor Force: Is The Donald Chasing People to To NYC?

In mid-2016, looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for that year, I found that after years of rapid growth New York City’s labor force, people working and looking for work, had stopped growing when compared with a year earlier, and in some months had declined.   I wondered if the millennials, faced with low wages (or just freelance gigs), high rents, high taxes and declining services were finally leaving, or not coming to, New York.

Checking data for other metros, I found that labor force growth had slowed or reversed in other large coastal metro areas with high costs of living, such as Boston and San Francisco, while picking up in other metros that were more affordable.

A year later, American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau was released for 2016, and had similar findings.

Boston appears to have hit what some demographers call “peak millennial,” according to an analysis from Time magazine. That analysis looked at the number of millennials—the nation’s youngest cohort of adults—who have exited Boston proper in recent years. Roughly 7,000 exited in 2016, after the city reached a record high of 259,000 millennials calling Boston home in 2015.

Other larger East Coast cities such as New York and Washington are seeing a similar trend and the reason is clear: Housing costs. Millennials get to a certain ripe old age—say, 27—and decide they want space for themselves and a potential family more than they want convenient access to decent avocado toast. While things might change given the effects a federal tax overhaul could have on the Boston housing market, the trend of millennial exodus is expected to continue.

But has it? I downloaded the latest BLS data to find out.

NYC Labor

Surprise!   After being up by fewer than 50,000 workers, or even down, from a year earlier in most months of 2015 and 2016, New York City’s labor force has been up 75,000 to 116,000 from a year earlier most months of 2017, starting in April. It is uncertain who all these additional people are, but they aren’t just Puerto Ricans fleeing the hurricane, because this increase started well before Hurricane Maria hit.

Perhaps the millennials will actually flee New York when they have school age children, and find that since the Untied Federation of Teachers has used a downturn in the number of students to jack up pension benefits and out of classroom assignments, the City of New York will once again not be able to provide an education to a growing number of students despite high taxes and cuts in other services, as in the 1990s. With the schools the equivalent of the subway. But that, apparently, is in the future.

Boston Labor

One finds the same trend in metro Boston, which might not have reached “peak millennial” after all. Where labor force growth had slowed, but then soared to a higher level than before, despite high housing costs and a collapsing transit system that partially shut down for weeks not long ago.

U.S. Labor

Faster labor force growth is not a national trend. For the U.S. as a whole, year-over-year labor force growth has slowed sharply. Which is what you would expect. Many of those driven out of the labor force by the Great Recession are already back in.

Then there is the impact of demographic bulges. The Baby Boomers are retiring. The large “Baby Boom echo” generation that is the children of the Boomers (aka the millennials) has almost completely entered the labor force. It is the children of the smaller “Baby Bust” generation (aka Gen X) that will be entering the labor force going forward.

Back when the relatively small Gen X was entering the labor force, from the mid-1980s through the 1990s, the unemployment rate plunged and there were labor shortages. But those shortages were partly relieved by a surge of immigration. Today, however, immigration is down, with the remaining immigrants perhaps seeking to move to places where they are less despised.

SF Labor

It seems that the San Francisco Bay area is the booming coastal metro where, as Yogi put it, “nobody every goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded” (and expensive). Labor force growth has slowed sharply there this year, the BLS believes, perhaps because housing has become so hard to come by. At some point, young software engineers earning six figures are going to tire of living with three roommates, or in their cars.

NJ Labor

Labor force growth still seems to be an urban phenomenon, even around here. Suburban housing, as in New Jersey, remains occupied by aging, empty nester suburbanites, and as they retire the state’s labor force is stagnating. Perhaps would-be New Jersey residents have figured out that given the state of the Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River and the Port Authority bus terminal, if they buy a house there they may not be able to get to work in New York City at some point in the future.

Rest of NY State

Belatedly, there does seem to be a bump up in the labor force of the portion of New York State outside New York City, by some 50,000 in the year to October 2017. Perhaps people are starting to believe that the Gravy Train will end and East Side Access will actually open someday. That was still down more than 300,000 from October 2008, however. The NYC labor force was 290,000 higher in October 2017 than it had been in October 2008. Recalling the attitude of the rest of the state toward NYC 25 years ago, “Get a job ya bums!”


For those who want to know where the data comes from, and might want to download it for additional areas, it comes from here.

Tab down to databases. I generally use the one screen data search.

The data as downloaded, with the charts is here.

Labor Force Change

So why has the labor force suddenly surged in New York City despite high housing costs, high and soon to be rising taxes, and continuing reductions in public services, as politically powerful interests continue to take more and more at the expense of young serfs? And where are we putting all these additional people, given that the level of development, though exceptional for an already developed and densely developed city, is not enough to accommodate them all?

This could be a data error. The employment data is revised each spring, based on additional information that become available.

It could be housing previously occupied by public assistance recipients from the 1960s and 1970s, now dying off or moving out, is becoming occupied by workers.

It could be young New Yorkers still forced to live with their parents but now in the labor force.

It could be that young adults who were previously living four to an apartment and paying half their rent for housing are now living two to a room and paying half their rent for housing.

Or it could be something else.

The President gets too much credit and too much blame for what happens in U.S. society, especially this President, who seems to be constantly in my face as much as I try to ignore him. So he said that certain poor countries where immigrants come from are “shitholes.” Was that really the most important event, trend, situation, or issue in the United States that day? The ONLY thing that mattered that day? In the national AND local news? It’s all Donald, all the time, now on public television and radio too.

The Donald was elected by his fellow aging Baby Boomers. Many younger people reluctantly voted for Clinton or, given a choice of two members of that self-serving generation, stayed home. Perhaps many millennials in places where The Donald won the most votes have decided that those weren’t their kind of places after all. Starting, perhaps, with the children of the immigrants who surged into the U.S. during the “Baby Bust” period of the mid-1980s through the 1990s, and their spouses, and their friends, even if native-born White. Perhaps they felt rising hostility, even if they were here legally, especially if their parents were not.

One under the radar trend I was surprised to find out about was the spread of immigrants from traditional, pro-immigrant ports of entry to parts of the country where outsiders of any sort aren’t always welcome. Including low-wage workers from Mexico and Central America and small business owners from India. After all, America is America, right?

Consider the case of the founder of Chobani, a Muslim Turkish immigrant who came to the U.S., got an education, got a federal loan to take over a closed dairy plant in Upstate New York, started a successful business, and became a local folk hero. What a country! Then he decided to open a second plant in the west so his business could go national, turning an area in to the “Silicon Valley of food.” He chose Idaho. Idaho?


Ulukaya’s story, and his company’s success, embody the American dream immigrants have chased for centuries. But in today’s political climate, Chobani has also found itself drawn into the city’s and the country’s reckonings with a wave of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment. Ulukaya has proudly supported and sought out refugees, employing hundreds in Twin Falls, where 11 or 12 different languages are spoken on the factory floor.

Over the last few years in Twin Falls, as protests against refugees and an assault against a 5-year-old girl, known as the Fawnbrook case, became a catalyst for fake news, Ulukaya received threats, was subject to internet rumors, and was called out in Breitbart articles. While anti-refugee sentiment comes from a small but vocal minority, these incidents show that the city and the company are going through growing pains as they try to understand the impact of refugee resettlement.

Perhaps somebody should have suggested to this guy that he go somewhere else. Before he invested all that money.

The American people, for the most part, have the right idea about immigration. Because immigration tends to be selective the immigrants, on average, tend to be better people in many ways than natives. Harder working, more family oriented, more likely to start businesses, more likely to appreciate the opportunities available in this country, willing to contribute more, not expecting as much in return.  So most Americans are favorable to the immigrants they work with, do business with, and are friends and neighbors with, as individuals. They don’t want them harmed.

On the other hand, most Americans understand that unlimited immigration would overwhelm the U.S. labor market and social service system, to the point where the U.S. was no better off than the countries those immigrants were coming from. So most Americans believe immigration needs to be limited. Individual immigrants are generally assets, but too many immigrants are a liability. Americans are sort of rationally irrational about immigration as a result.

The possibility of millions – or hundreds of millions – of people trying to come here can no longer be dismissed as unlikely to occur. With global air service and rising incomes in developing countries, billions of people could now afford an air ticket to the U.S., either in cash or in exchange for the sort of indentured servitude that many ancestors of current Americans once endured, even though it is now illegal. And with the internet, billions of people not only know how much better off people are in the United States, but also have a false impression that Americans are even better off than they actually are, from television shows.

While most Americans have the right ideas about immigrants, however, those who politically active on the subject tend to be hypocritical and deceptive.

When politically active Republicans said they were against “illegal” immigration, for example, they were lying. They are against all immigrants. They are against Black and Brown and Yellow people, and those with accents and different religions. But most Americans are NOT against legal immigrants. Which is why they lie.

You just need to go back to welfare reform. In the 1994 election, the Republicans claimed they were against public benefits for ILLEGAL immigrants. But when welfare reform passed in 1996, it cut off benefits for LEGAL immigrants as well, notably benefits for the working poor such as food stamps and worker compensation if they were injured on the job. This came out of the blue, after the Republicans won the 1994 congressional election.

Click to access 200405_singer.pdf

In the United States, previous policy permitted access to welfare benefits for immigrant residents after five years of residence. Although some immigrants were required to have a sponsor sign an affidavit of support in the past, these contracts were found by some courts not to be legally enforceable and thus were generally considered a moral rather than a legal obligation. PRWORA stipulated that sponsors must accept this now legally enforceable responsibility until their charge becomes a U.S. citizen or has worked forty quarters.

So this is not a new lie.

More recently, The Donald campaigned against “illegal” immigration. It was, and is, his number one issue. Now that he is in office, however, it turns out The Donald actually wants to cut LEGAL immigration in half.

On one hand, I have heard that the number of illegal immigrants in the country is as high as the number of legal immigrants who have not naturalized (become U.S. citizens), at about 11 million each. From this statistic one can easily conclude that the immigration laws have become a farce, and illegal immigration is too high. On the other hand, with the U.S. now at full employment and approaching a labor shortage despite all those illegals, one could also conclude that legal immigration ought to be higher.   But that is not what is being proposed.

Similarly, immigration activists on the Democratic side are, in reality, in favor of unlimited immigration.
 They also lie. They claim they are only in favor of amnesty, and a path to citizenship, for those illegals who are already in the country. Just a one-time thing. But the U.S. has already had that one-time amnesty, and if there is a second, everyone knows that after a few years those same activists (or their successors) will start pushing for a third.

In fact, were “immigration reform” ever to pass, I would hope they would just go ahead and schedule the third, fourth and fifth amnesties, sparing us this recurring debate.

Most Americans are NOT in favor of unlimited immigration. That’s why they lie.

In fact, I get the feeling the policy that all the immigration activists on all sides could get behind would be to eliminate the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants entirely. By banning all legal immigration, but eliminating enforcement –except when a U.S. citizen rats an immigrant out by filing a complaint.   Kind of like NYC commercial use regulations and other obsolete laws that are only enforced in response to complaints.

Under that policy, immigrants could come here, but only if they lived without the general benefits and protections of our society, leaving them vulnerable to economic exploitation, and perhaps sexual exploitation and violence. The big corporations would get their “independent contractors.” The limousine liberals in the cities, and BMW mini-van liberals in the bi-coastal suburbs, would get their sub-minimum wage domestic servants. And if a bunch of frat boys wanted to put the immigrants in their place and feel better about themselves by beating the hell out of a couple of them, they could be sure of getting away with it.

My view is different, of course. I despise the hypocrisy and deceptions of the activists. I’m pro-immigrant, and glad to live in a city that is full of immigrants. But I am also favorable toward the suckers who follow the rules and wait their turn, as opposed to those who believe the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them. (Aren’t those The Donald’s sort of immigrants?) So, I have a better idea.

Instead of cutting legal immigration in half, why not restrict immigrants to living and working in half the country (by population)? You don’t want them? We’ll take them!

This policy need not only apply to new immigrants. Green cards could be made to expire in five years, and then be renewed under the new rules. Existing legal immigrants thus would be given five years to move, or naturalize. Or better yet naturalize and move to a place where elected officials and others aren’t stirring up hostility to them.

And the rules would apply to all immigrants, not just those in certain category. No Mexican laborers in your state, no Indian doctors and engineers either. If we’re going to take them all, we’re going to take them all.

Perhaps, given The Donald’s preferences, an exception could be made for “Nordics.” Scandinavia, however, doesn’t send very many immigrants to the U.S. anymore.   Most of those of Scandinavian descent have ancestors who came here around 1900, when Scandinavia was the poorest part of Europe. And thus, from The Donald’s point of view, a shithole. That’s why they left. Southern Italy was pretty much a shithole when most of my ancestors left there. Perhaps someday there will be fewer shitholes, and the U.S. will no longer attract many immigrants, to its regret.

Under this proposal, immigrants would be allowed in the Northeast, as far south as Northern Virginia, in the southern half of Florida, from metro Orlando and Tampa-St. Pete on down, in the West Coast states, and in Colorado and Nevada, New Mexico, and Minnesota.

And selected counties in Texas and the Midwest. Those with large cities such as Cook County (Chicago), Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Milwaukee County, St. Louis City and County, Wayne County (Detroit), Harris County (Houston), and Bexar County (San Antonio).

Perhaps some counties with large colleges, such as Dane County Wisconsin (Madison) and Washtenaw County Michigan (Ann Arbor), so immigrants could serve as professors and study as students there.

And some counties along the Mexican border, such as those containing Brownsville, Laredo, and El Paso Texas.

In other words, immigrants would be allowed in the sort of places where first generation Americans have traditionally settled, with their descendents spreading out to other areas after assimilation, after a generation or two. It worked for 100 years. It could work again.

I suspect that part of the rising anti-immigrant settlement is the result of immigrants moving to parts of the U.S. where they had not gone before.
 Under this proposal, there would be no legal non-citizen immigrants in most of the South and Southwest, the rural Midwest, and most of the mountain states. Particularly no educated immigrants. None in Idaho, Indiana, and Alabama, for example.   Since illegal immigrants tend to go to the same places as legal immigrants, this would solve their whole “problem.”

Would I like to see this proposal enacted? Not necessarily.

But if the Republicans continue to try to ride anti-immigrant tribalism to the ballot box, and advance legislation to cut legal immigration in half, I’d love to see it proposed, just to see the reaction.   From the business community out in the Red States. In the 2018 federal Republican primaries in some of those states. And then in the 2018 federal general election. Let them pay a price for posturing.

Even were it not seriously entertained let alone enacted, I’d like to see such a proposal mapped and put on the internet, for immigrants and would be immigrants to see.   The map could be based on the share of votes going to The Donald in 2016, in the primary and general elections.

Immigrants need to be told where they are welcome, and where they are not welcome, even if allowed to go to the latter places, for their own benefit. And, always on the lookout for newcomers to exploit to benefit those cashing in and moving out, New York’s political/union class and property owners could use a new batch non-voting young serfs.

1 thought on “The New York Labor Force: Is The Donald Chasing People to To NYC?

  1. larrylittlefield Post author

    Every time I make this suggestion to a person who is upset about immigration, hostile to illegals, too many legal immigrants, wrong kind of immigrants, etc. they immediately reverse direction. Which kind of ticks me off a little.

    I’m serious.

    Limit legal immigrants to certain parts of the country, accounting for about half the nation’s population. As an alternative to half the number of legal immigrants. Including the most skilled, as well as the unskilled. No Mexican laborers, no Indian doctors and business owners or H-1B.

    That would apply to existing immigrants too — the Dreamers in the wrong states (or parts thereof) could be given six months to leave, others who don’t own homes and businesses given a year, while those who own homes and businesses could be given five years to sell and move. They could also naturalize, if they were determined to live in places where politicians whipped up hostility to them.

    Illegal immigrants would follow. As would native born white people who didn’t dislike immigrants. And foreign investment.

    Let’s go back to the way it was, when immigrants moved to certain immigrant-friendly places of entry, and their descendants stayed in those same sort of places for a century of so.

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