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Immigrant workforce in the US reaches a record high

Foreign-born workers accounted for 18.1% of the U.S. labor force in 2022.
Immigrant workforce in the US reaches a record high
Posted at 8:43 PM, May 26, 2023

The number of workers in America who were born outside the U.S. has reached a record high.

That's according to data from the federal Department of Labor Statistics.

Foreign-born workers made up 18.1% of the overall labor force in 2022. That's the highest level recorded since 1996.

About half of these workers are Hispanic, and a quarter are of Asian origin. 

The department counts foreign-born workers who are legally admitted as well as those who are undocumented, but did not report a workplace breakdown by legal status.

Data shows these workers are often more concentrated in lower-paying industries like health care, construction, and transportation — due to language barriers, education, and skill requirements.

But foreign-born workers have made significant gains in white-collar professions as well.

It's a trend that's been playing out for years now.

The number of foreign-born people in the American workforce has been rising steadily for decades.

That's largely thanks to sluggish population growth in the United States, plus accelerated retirements among baby boomers in recent years.

But economists note that steady rise dipped during the pandemic, when immigration slowed down substantially.

It left businesses strapped for help — something many are still struggling with today.

SEE MORE: Floridians worry for labor effects of new undocumented migrant law

"We have people who want to work, we have jobs that need to be filled," said Carlos Gomez, President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City. "So why does it take so long? And why is the process not efficient enough to suffice those needs?"

Ever-evolving immigration policies in the U.S. are making things difficult for immigrants to find work in some places.

In Florida, a new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis tightens restrictions on people living in the state who are undocumented. While DeSantis says he welcomes legally authorized foreign-born workers, he said those who are not documented are costly in terms of social services. Other critics have argued that immigration drives down wages.

Opponents of tightening immigration worry labor shortages will get worse in the agriculture, construction, and hospitality industries.

"Before this law was passed, they were completely unfilled and people couldn't find people to work," said Felipe Sousa Lazaballet, with the Hope Community Center. "Now what we're looking at, before July 1, people are afraid to go to work. We are seeing construction sites that are completely empty, and people are not showing up to work in the agricultural fields."

But for those who fear foreign-born workers are taking jobs away from native-born workers, the data suggests otherwise.

At certain points last year, there were two jobs available for every job seeker. This year, the unemployment rate remains near a record low.

Without these foreign-born employees in the workforce, immigration experts say consumers will feel the impact where it really hurts — their wallets.

"Our food prices will go up when we don't have anyone picking up the crops," said Samuel Vilchez Santiago, with the American Business Immigration Coalition. "Our housing prices will go up with immigrants not building our homes."

SEE MORE: As summer begins, seasonal workers struggle to find affordable housing

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