Latest Estimate of Illegal Alien Population Exceeds Unemployed

Ali Meyer | March 13, 2014 | 10:54am EDT
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(AP Photo)

( - The Pew Research Center’s latest estimate of the number of illegal aliens residing in the United States—11.7 million as of March 2012--was less than the approximately 12.5 million people whom the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated were unemployed in the United States in the average month of 2012.

However, it exceeds the approximately 11.46 million people whom BLS says were unemployed in the average month of 2013.

Pew released its latest report on the “unauthorized immigrant” population on Sept. 23, 2013. Headlined “Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed,” it estimated that the illegal alien population in the United States in March 2012 was 11.7 million.

“The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. climbed steadily from 1990 to 2007, when it peaked at 12.2 million people,” said the Pew report. “The trend of annual increases averaging more than 500,000 per year then changed abruptly as the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. fell in 2008 and 2009, reversing a pattern of gains that had prevailed for decades.”

“In 2012, the population of 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants was half a million people smaller than it had been in 2007, when the Great Recession began,” said Pew, noting that the “recession officially ended in June 2009.”

“Although it appears that the unauthorized immigrant total has begun to grow again, the data are insufficient to say so definitively,” said Pew. “The difference in the size of the unauthorized population from 2010 (11.4 million) to 2012 (11.7 million), or from 2011 (11.5 million) to 2012 is not statistically significant.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s latest estimate of the illegal alien population in the United States, published in March 2012, also estimated there were 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States as of 2011. Unlike Pew, DHS has not yet published an estimate for 2012.

If Pew’s estimate that there were 11.7 million illegal aliens in the United States as of March 2012 is accurate--and if that population has not begun to decline again as Pew estimated it did during 2007-2009 recession—then there would have been more illegal aliens in the United States in 2013 than people who were unemployed.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 11,460,000 Americans unemployed on average in 2013, down from 12,506,000 in 2012. A person is considered to be “unemployed” by BLS if they are in the civilian noninstitutional population (n.b. they are at least 16 years old and not on active duty in the military or in an institution such as a prison, nursing home, or mental hospital) and do not have a job but have actively sought one in the last four weeks.

People in the civilian noninstitutional population who are not employed and have not actively sought a job in the last four weeks are considered by BLS to be “not in the labor force.” In 2013, according to BLS, there was a record-high average of 90,290,000 people not in the labor force in the United States. That was up from 88,310,000 in 2012.

From 2012 to 2013, according to BLS, the average number of unemployed dropped by 1,046,000, but the average number of people not in the labor force increased by 1,980,000. contacted Pew to ask if it had any projections for the trend in the illegal alien population in 2013. Molly Rohal, a communications associate, said Pew does not “make predictions.”

BLS said that the survey it uses to determine employment statistics does not ask people about their immigration status. “The only thing that we know is, if they were foreign born or native born,” BLS said. “We don’t know anything about their legal status. We just know about their country of origin.”

Accordingly, illegal aliens surveyed for the government’s official employment statistics are counted among those who are employed, unemployed or not in the labor force in the United States. A person, therefore, could be among both the estimated illegal alien population of the country and the estimated unemployed.

The business and economic reporting of is funded in part with a gift made in memory of Dr. Keith C. Wold.

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