U.S. Immigrant worker figures in a nutshell

Drawn from the archives on www.workingimmigrants.com….
First, the 30,000 foot overview. The U.S. is premier among major countries in scale of immigrant activity. Some 37.5 million residents, or 12%, were born outside the country. World wide there are 3% of the world population living in a country other than their birth country. Almost one in five residents speak a language other than English at home. The number of cities in world with at least one million foreign born residents is 20. Eight of these are in the United States: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. In contrast number of these cities in India and China is zero.
Second, the demand for immigrant labor in the United States. Let’s look at manual jobs.
MIT professor David Autor projects that mental and manual jobs involving a level of irregularity in decision making and face to face servicing are growing. This concept explains why some manual jobs are expected to grow in the future along with the growth of high end mental jobs. Low skilled immigrant labor fills many of these manual jobs. About a quarter of residential construction workers and landscaping workers are undocumented workers alone; on top of that one needs to add documented immigrant workers.
Let’s look at skilled jobs. Fully one half of computer systems engineering jobs in America are filled by foreign born workers. Indians alone own 50% of all economy hotels in the U.S. Ten percent of doctors are foreign born, of these close to half are from India. There are 40,000 Indian physicians in the U.S, or about 4% of all doctors. The nursing profession is 11% foreign born.
Some other economies export a huge share of their workforce overseas and to the U.S. and this reflects major development in the American economy resulting in massive demand for low skilled labor. Sixteen percent of the Mexican workforce is working in the U.S. In the 1980s, Hispanic work immigration (documented and undocumented) was concentrated in the agricultural sector. In the 1990s, the concentration was in meat processing, as American firms located often large plants in rural areas (Kansas, hogs, North Carolina, chickens, etc). During this decade labor demand turned urban including residential construction.
We turn to how foreign workers get into the U.S. The number of persons (adults, children, retirees) formally admitted into the U.S. each year for permanent residence (which can lead to citizenship) is roughly about 1 million. Perhaps 400,000 of these new resident are working age adults.
There are in addition temporary work permits. The number of new H-1B temporary professional workers formally admitted each year (i.e. Bill Gate’s programmers) is about 95,000 officially but due to Byzantine rules probably is more. The number of new H-2A temporary agricultural workers (special agricultural workers) admitted each year is about 200,000. And about 50,000 workers are admitted each year only a plethora of other work permit programs, ranging from university professors to star athletes. All told, these documented new workers each year are perhaps 750,000.
Undocumented worker growth is about 350,000 a year, mostly from Latin America but also from eastern Europe and elsewhere. Compare this with the roughly 750,000 undocumented workers which arrive. Now, many of these people may and do return permanently or temporarily to their homeland – some are on temporary visas — but probably the lion’s share stay here. Of the 35 million foreign born, roughly 15 million may be in the workforce. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated in 2005 that the number of undocumented workers is 7.2 million. Thus, close to half of foreign born workers are undocumented.
Undocumented workers fills about half the jobs in America that meet these criteria: 1. Less than a high school education is required, and 2. the jobs are not in industries which enforce worker documentation requirements aggressively (such as healthcare, banking, and local government).
Per the Pew Hispanic Center, 55-60% of these undocumented workers are in formal employment and are paying social security taxes. About 3 million of the 7.2 million illegal workers are in occupations in which undocumented workers account for at least 15% of total employment in that occupation. These include construction labor (25%), cooks (20%). Maids and housecleaners (22%), and grounds maintenance (25%). among roofers, 29% of the total workforce is estimated to be undocumented workers.
What is the economic impact of illegal population in U.S.? A Texas study says that illegal household payments of consumer and property taxes (via rent or home ownership) exceeds by about 30% the taxpayer burden for education, healthcare, and incarceration.
Do illegal workers displace American workers? Some say yes, others say no. It appears that undocumented worker compensation is about 30% below what it would be with 100% worker protections afforded to Americans.

Comments are closed.