Immigration, Organization, and the Great Recession: Structural Change or Continuity?

Source: Jake Rosenfeld, Meredith Kleykamp, American Sociological Review, Vol. 78 no. 2, April 2013
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From the extract:
Catron’s comment extends our 2009 ASR article, “Hispanics and Organized Labor in the United States, 1973 to 2007,” by analyzing CPS data through the Great Recession. He finds that Hispanic immigrants’ odds of union membership declined relative to nonimmigrant whites between 2007 and 2009, and that certain Hispanic immigrant subcategories displayed increased odds of leaving union jobs during the recent recession. Catron interprets these results as revealing a strong business cycle component to the more general relationship between immigrants and labor organizing that we report, and suggests his findings partially undercut “the hopes of those who view immigrants as the key to organized labor’s future and organized labor as the key to immigrant prosperity” (p. 315).

We appreciate the extension of our prior work and believe that Catron’s focus on the recent recession represents an important area of inquiry. As he highlights, our article juxtaposes solidaristic theories of unionization with positional explanations. We did not focus on how business cycles affect unionization, although we controlled for some of this influence with year fixed effects. We do find certain critiques overdone, such as his observation that our conclusions are “vulnerable to charges of ahistoricism” (p. 316) because they ignore an event—the Great Recession—that was occurring while we were conducting our analyses. Nonetheless, his broader point that business cycles may alter certain patterns we uncovered remains valid. Indeed, we would be quite surprised if the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression failed to disrupt labor force dynamics such as the relationship between Hispanic immigrants and labor organizing. Yet we are unconvinced that Catron’s analyses reveal what he claims they do.

Our response has three parts: …