The role of immigrant workers in strategic industries

Conner O’Brien (@cojobrien) has studied the role of immigrant workers in strategic industries. He writes, “As we climb the educational ladder in strategic industries, we find immigrants are increasingly important. 36% of strategic industry workers with a graduate degree are foreign-born.  25% with only a college degree are foreign born, and 15% of those without college degree are foreign born.” Not surpisingly, foreign born workers in strategic industries earn on average more than do U.S-born workers ($106K vs. $91K).

Among foreign born workers in strategic industries with at least a BA, 29% are from India; 13% from China.

Over the past 20 years, all industries have become more dependent on graduate degree holders, but the dependency in strategic industries much more so. Strategic industries make heavy use of computer scientists and scientific researchers.

What are strategic industries? O’Brien’s study says, “We identify Census-defined industries as strategically significant if they intersect with Brookings Metro’s Advanced Industries definition, using the Census Bureau’s NAICS crosswalk. Brookings defines advanced industries as those that are both in the top fifth of industries by R&D spending per worker and are above average in their use of STEM workers. We then examine the workforces of these industries using 2018-2022 five-year American Community Survey (ACS) microdata.

The industries identified encompass nearly 20 million workers and range from software to shipbuilding. Strategic industries are disproportionately in manufacturing and professional services, which combine for 83 percent of employment. In non-strategic sectors, these two categories combined employ only nine percent of workers.”


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