Jobs occupied by low wage immigrants to decline

The Brookings Institution predicts that the pandemic will permanently drive down job numbers for some occupations not requiring more than a HS degree. Some today have high shares of immigrant workers with little formal education. The net effect will be a decline in the attractiveness of the American job market to non-English speaking immigrants with little formal education. The impact of migration trends will be gradual.

Elimination of jobs due to telework: “If telepresence displaces a meaningful fraction of professional office time and business travel, the accompanying reductions in office occupancy, daily commuting trips, and business excursions will mean steep declines in demand for building cleaning, security, and maintenance service; hotel workers and restaurant staff; taxi and ride-hailing drivers; and myriad other workers who feed, transport, clothe, entertain, and shelter people when they are not in their own homes. These services account for one in four U.S. jobs. While immigrants make up about 17% of all workers, they make up to 25% or more of the workers in these categories.

Elimination of jobs due to “automation forcing.” “A consequence of the crisis is what one might generically call automation forcing. Spurred by social distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders that generated a severe temporary labor shortage, firms have discovered new ways to harness emerging technologies to accomplish their core tasks with less human labor—fewer workers per store, fewer security guards and more cameras, more automation in warehouses, and more machinery applied to nightly scrubbing of workplaces…. In the meatpacking industry,
where the novel coronavirus has sickened thousands of workers, the COVID crisis will speed the adoption of robotic automation.” Immigrant workers with little formal education probably account for a quarter of these jobs.

Jobs still in demand for workers with little formal education will be client-focused, low productivity jobs such as health aides and personal aides, which required proficiency in English. This favors workers from the Caribbean, Africa, and Philippines, not Latin America.

By David Autor and Elizabeth Reynolds, Brookings Institution

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