What low skills jobs do immigrants and native Americans appear to compete for?

The Atlantic reports on the dependence of landscaping businesses for temporary foreign workers to do landscaping work. Let’s put this demand for workers into the context of low skilled work not requiring much formal education. Are immigrants and native Americans broadly competing, when the supply of both workers is shrinking?

A close look at the jobs for which there appears to be competition leads one to see that the supply of poorly educated workers is shrinking among both immigrant and native born workers. This bodes for higher wages and increased automation.

There are fourteen jobs in America (including groundskeeping) not requiring a high school diploma, with at least 400,000 workers, and at least 20% of the jobs held by immigrants. The annual wages of these jobs range from $19,000 to $30,000 and average $23,000. About 16,800,000 in number, they account for about 11% of all jobs in the country, 21% of all immigrant workers and 9% of native American workers. Men hold 59% of these fourteen jobs. (The three held mostly by women are housekeepers, food preparers, and personal aides.)

Today, among 18- 24 year olds, only about 5% of white native-born white Americans and 7% of black Americans do not complete high school. In 2015, 23.9% of the foreign-born labor force age 25 and over had not completed high school, compared with 4.6% of the native-born labor force.

It’s important to note that the education level of recent immigrants is going up, plus the new labor force entrants are increasingly weighted towards second vs. first generation. Thus, there are more native born Hispanic workers than foreign born. The peak of foreign born Hispanics (56%) was in 2007. All 18- 24 year old Hispanics in the U.S. finishing high school at a 88% rate.

The Frey index for computerization of thee fourteen jobs ranges from 38% (hand packagers) to 95% (grounds keepers). This is the percentage of the work that could be taken over by automation. As robots decline in costs and expand in application, they are likely to take over a lot of the work now down by poorly educated workers.

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