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Immigrants are now a record share of U.S. workers.

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Immigrants are now a record share of U.S. workers. Here's what to know.


MAY 26, 2023 / 5:06 PM / MONEYWATCH

Immigrants are apparently getting the job done, with new government data finding that almost 1 in 5 workers last year were born outside the U.S. to parents who aren't American citizens, representing a record-high share of the workforce.

That reverses a pandemic dip, when the share of foreign-born workers slipped — an unusual backstep in a trend that's been rising since at least 1996. The share of immigrants in the workforce rose to 18.1% last year, an increase from 17.4% in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a recent report.

The findings come at a time when immigration is in the spotlight due to the expiration of Title 42, an emergency immigration restriction that allowed the U.S. to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants to Mexico or their home countries due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, some states, like Texas and Florida, are moving forward with new laws to crack down on immigration.

Previous dip coincided with labor shortage

But some economists have argued that the dip in immigration during the pandemic was, in fact, one of the causes of the labor-market tightness during the past few years. That coincided with two other demographic trends that are squeezing the pool of available workers: baby boomers retiring in force and a shrinking American birth rate.

"Policies that encourage immigration, female labor participation or the uptake of new, productivity-enhancing technologies will determine the extent and persistence of labor supply challenges," Moody's said in a recent research note. "Without them, we would expect hiring challenges to re-emerge in the next business cycle."

Immigration rebounded last year, according to U.S. Census data, which found that the nation experienced the biggest single-year increase in immigrants since 2010. About 1 million people immigrated to the U.S. in 2022, a surge from its recent low of 376,000 people in 2021, the agency noted.

Here's what to know about the trend.

What is the jobless rate for foreign-born workers?

Employees who were born outside the U.S. had a lower jobless rate last year than native-born workers, the BLS said.

Foreign-born workers had an unemployment rate of 3.4% in 2022, compared with 3.7% for people born in the U.S., it noted.

The biggest difference was among men, with about 77% of immigrant male workers over the age of 16 in the workforce, compared with 66% of those born in America, the analysis found.

What kind of jobs do immigrants hold?

Foreign-born workers are more likely than those born in the U.S. to work in service industry jobs, natural resources, construction and maintenance jobs, the government said. They're also more likely to work in production, transportation and material moving jobs.

By comparison, American-born workers are more likely to work in management and professional jobs.

How much do foreign-born workers earn?

Workers born outside the U.S. earn a median wage of $945 per week, slightly less than the $1,087 per week earned by America-born employees, the analysis found.

What are the demographics of foreign-born workers?

Almost one-half of this group are Hispanic, while another roughly 25% are Asian, the labor department said. Another 16% is White, and about 10% is black, it noted.

Immigrant workers tend to have lower educational attainment, with the analysis finding that 18.3% of foreign-born workers last year hadn't earned a high school diploma, compared with 3.4% for U.S.-born employees.

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