Is Immigration Good for the U.S. Labor Market and Economy?
Immigration has always been a contentious topic in the United States. Since its founding we’ve seemed to struggle with the question “Is immigration good for the U.S. labor market and economy?”
The answer to that question, at least in contemporary times, is a resounding yes. The evidence across numerous studies reveals that immigrants are a vital part of the U.S. labor market.
7 Ways Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Labor Market and Economy
1. Immigrants make up a significant portion of the U.S. Labor Market
According to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 17.4% of the U.S. labor force is foreign born.
Imagine eliminating 17 out of every 100 workers in the United States. That would devastate the U.S. economy in untold ways.
The study goes on to reveal that foreign born men are employed at far greater rates in the U.S. than native born men (approximately 77% to 66% respectively). Native born women, by contrast, are employed at slightly higher rates (56%) than foreign born women (53%).
2. Immigrants hold jobs that are essential to the U.S. economy
Immigrants fill many roles that often have high unemployment rates. Immigrants without a four-year college degree represent a large share of all workers in industries that all Americans rely daily.
For example, immigrants without a four-year college degree make up 29% of the textile manufacturing workforce, 36% of the fishing and farming workforce, and 24% of the construction industry.
In short, all Americans rely on a significant portion of foreign-born workers for food, clothing, and shelter.
3. There are high employment rates among immigrants that receive government assistance
A significant portion of Americans may have the perception that immigrants come to this country to live off government assistance. The data reveals that belief is a misperception.
In fact, 77% of foreign-born workers who received at least one of six government benefits were employed or married to someone who was employed the prior year. That’s not an indication that foreign-born workers aren’t working, but they are working low-paid jobs.
Furthermore, when the children of immigrant families are denied government assistance programs, the long-term results can be damaging.
Studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research have shown that pregnant women who receive Medicare have healthier births with fewer complications. Children of foreign-born parents who receive Medicare assistance experience fewer illnesses in childbirth, fewer emergency room visits, and are healthier overall as adults. Beyond that, adults who received Medicare are more likely to receive college diplomas, earn more, and pay more in taxes.
There are similar results for those who receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Adults who received SNAP benefits have lower incidences of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
The evidence is clear that these government assistance programs work. They are an investment in the future health of these children and the U.S. economy overall.
4. Immigrants fill employment gaps
Foreign-born workers tend to be highly mobile. That is, they go where the opportunity for work is at higher rates than native born workers.
Their willingness to fill these gaps helps the native-born workers in those industries overall. Here’s an example. Let’s say a clothing manufacturer pays its workers based on hours worked and how productive the team is.
If there are low-employment rates, the workers are faced with an overwhelming workload and could miss the financial rewards that come with efficiency and productivity.
If immigrant workers come in to fill those employment gaps, then all workers benefit by sharing more of the workload and meeting productivity goals.
5. Immigrants boost birth rates
The birth rate among native-born Americans is at an all-time low. Low birth rates lead to a reduced work force and less demand for housing, automobiles, clothing. The result could be a softening of the economy over time. The immigrant population helps to bolster the birth rate in this country.
In addition, we’re seeing the baby boomer generation retire in droves, with fewer native-born workers to replace them. Again, immigrants are there to fill in those gaps to ensure a strong workforce into the future.
6. Immigration improves the health of the Social Security system
A reduced workforce puts the Social Security System at risk. Again, we see Baby Boomers starting to draw on those benefits. However, there are fewer native-born workers to help support that financial drain.
Immigrants who work in the United States, even if they are not full citizens, contribute to the Social Security system.
The Social Security Administration estimates that for every 100,000 immigrants that come into the country, the balance of the Social Security System improves by .08%.
Focusing on increasing immigration into this country now will help solidify the Social Security system in the future. In short, your receipt of Social Security benefits upon retirement will very likely depend on immigration policy in this country.
7. Children of immigrants show significant upward mobility
Immigrants often to come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their children.
Across the board, children of immigrants attain higher levels of education than their parents, enter higher paying occupations, and earn more money over their lifetimes. Furthermore, grandchildren of immigrants continue this trajectory and are more likely to enter high-paying professions.
Immigrants are Essential to the U.S. Labor Market
To be sure, immigrants contribute to our nation in many ways beyond their positive economic impact. Art, music, cuisine, fashion, political ideas, have all come to this country by way of immigrants.
But when focusing just on their impact on the U.S. labor market, the evidence is clear. Immigrants are immigrants are an integral part of the U.S. economy.
In fact, “Is immigration good for the U.S. economy?” might not even be the right question. A better question might be: “How bad would it be for the U.S. economy and labor market if we didn’t welcome immigrants?”
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