Occupation Impacts of Foreign-Born Workers

06.29.17
Written by Richard Hokenson 

Foreign-born employment recorded a large increase for the second month in a row, increasing by slightly more than 1 million persons in the 12 months ending May on top of a gain of 894,000 in April1 (see Chart 1). As previously noted, the foreign born include legally-admitted immigrants, refugees, temporary residents such as students and temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, the survey data does not separately identify the number of persons in these categories.
 
 
Although it is not possible to pinpoint which categories of the foreign-born are responsible, the strong performance in foreign-born employment in the past two months is at variance with the expectation widely expressed earlier that the increasingly chilling attitude towards immigrants would result in a much weaker performance. A natural issue to consider, then, is what might be the impact on occupations if the anti-immigrant sentiment were to ultimately result in reduced gains or even negative changes in foreign-born employment. Since the monthly survey does not provide any detail by nativity, the following observations are derived from the annual survey for the year 2016 which was released last month:
 
  • Men accounted for 57.9% of the foreign-born labor force compared with 52.3% for the native-born labor force. The proportion of the foreign-born labor force comprised of prime-age workers (persons 25 to 54 years old) was 73.4% which is much higher than the native-born population at 62.4%. The differences in age composition in combination with fewer labor market rigidities probably explains why the U.S. is one of the few major countries in which the employment-population ratio for foreign-born workers exceeds that of native-born workers (see Chart 2). It is also interesting to note that the unemployment rate for foreign-born workers has become less cyclical than for native-born workers (see Chart 3).

  • In terms of educational attainment, 22.4% of the foreign-born labor force aged 25 and over had not completed high school versus 4.5% of the native-born population (see Chart 4). The foreign born were less likely than the native-born population to have some college or an associate degree – 17.0% versus 29.8%. While those groups are very dissimilar, there is considerable similarity for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (35.9% for foreign born; 39.6% for native born) and for those who are high school graduates, no college (24.7% for foreign born; 26.1% for native born).

  • Compared to native-born workers (see Chart 5), foreign-born workers were more likely to be employed in service occupations (23.5% versus 16.5%); in production, transportation, and material moving occupations (14.8% versus 11.1%), and in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (13.6% versus 8.3%). Table 1 displays considerably more detail on occupations by nativity. In order to better comprehend the differences, column 3 displays the ratio of foreign-born share relative to native-born. Occupations with a ratio well in excess of 100% are computer and mathematical occupations (170%), building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (214%), construction and extraction occupations (202%), and production occupations (144%).

  • Foreign-born men (see Chart 6) were more likely than native-born men to work in service occupations (17.1% versus 13.8%), and natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (22.0% versus 15.2%). Besides the detailed occupations already described for all workers, Table 2 displays very high ratios for life, physical and social service occupations (133%), food preparation and serving related occupations (153%), and farming, fishing and forestry occupations (288%).

  • Relative to native-born women (see Chart 7), foreign-born women were more likely to be in service occupations (32.5% versus 19.4%); in production, transportation, and material moving occupations (9.5% versus 4.8%), and in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations (1.8% versus 0.8%). As displayed in Table 3, the principal subcategories with high ratios are computer and mathematical occupations (180%), architecture and engineering occupations (133%), building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (471%), farming, fishing and forestry occupations (500%), and construction and extraction occupations (200%).

1The foreign-born are persons who reside in the United States but who were born outside the U.S. or one of its outlying areas to parents who were not U.S. citizens. Since the data on employment by nativity is not seasonally adjusted, the only valid change is to compare a month versus the same month in the prior year.

This update was researched and written by Richard Hokenson, as of June 29 2017