WASHINGTON (AP) - Immigrants are returning to work quicker than their U.S.-born counterparts, but are earning significantly less than before the economic downturn, a Pew Hispanic Center study reported Friday.
Immigrants in the U.S. have gained 656,000 jobs since the Great Recession ended in June 2009. By comparison, U.S.-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs. The unemployment rate for immigrants fell over the same period to 8.7 percent from 9.3 percent. For American-born workers, the jobless rate rose to 9.7 percent from 9.2 percent.
Foreign-born workers "did better in the first year of the recovery, but not so much better that they have recovered the losses they suffered beforehand," said Rakesh Kochhar, Pew Hispanic's associate director for research. Immigrants - who make up 15.7 percent of the labor force - began losing their jobs about a year before U.S.-born workers, he said.
The study said immigrant wages fell sharply in the last year, and that Latinos experienced the largest wage drop of any group.
From 2009 to 2010, the median weekly earnings of foreign-born workers fell 4.5 percent compared to a loss of less than 1 percent for U.S.-born workers. In the second quarter of 2010, the median weekly earnings for U.S. workers was $653, compared to $525 for foreign-born workers, Pew said.
Hispanic workers, U.S.-born and immigrants, fared worst of all. They are the only group whose wages fell two years in a row, Kochhar said. Median weekly wages for all Hispanic workers fell to $480 in the second quarter from $504 two years earlier.
The Pew Hispanic Center defined foreign-born workers as all immigrants who arrived legally and illegally in the U.S., naturalized U.S. citizens and people born in Puerto Rico, who are U.S. citizens at birth.
The center said the reasons immigrant unemployment is decreasing are unclear. But foreign-born workers are more mobile, they exit and enter the labor market more frequently, and are less likely to get unemployment benefits - so they may have to find jobs sooner, even if the jobs they are taking are worse.
Immigration advocates said the findings don't show that foreign-born workers are taking jobs away from Americans. Foreign-born and U.S.-born laborers differ in education levels, where they live and what type of work they do, said the Immigration Policy Center.
But the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tougher immigration laws, interpreted the data differently. Research director Steve Camarota said the findings raise questions about whether tighter controls might be needed - even on legal immigrants - during bad economic times.