Immigrants bolster the U.S. economy

Although Congress is failing to pass laws to restrict the number of migrants arriving in the U.S., a majority of Americans—about 6 in 10—believe there’s an immigration crisis along the Mexico-U.S. border. Politicians who want fewer people to move here often cast those arriving without prior authorization as a burden on the economy.

Help really wanted

The U.S. had 9 million job openings in December 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government agency also found that there were 6.1 million unemployed people actively seeking paid work.

Economists generally compare the two numbers to calculate the labor shortage. It currently stands at nearly 3 million workers, and the bureau expects this gap to grow as the population ages and people have fewer children over the next decade.

In other words, the U.S. faces a long-term shortage of people looking for employment.

That shortfall would be much bigger without foreign-born workers, who accounted for a record high of 18.1% of the U.S. civilian labor force in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More likely to be active in the workforce

Another reason why immigrants can help fill that big hole in the U.S. labor market is that so many of them tend to be employed or are looking for work.

About 65.9% of all people who were born elsewhere were either employed or actively looking for work as of 2022, in comparison to 61.5% of people born in the U.S.

This difference has been consistent since 2007, according to research by the Peterson Foundation, a think tank that focuses on long-term budget problems.

In a study I conducted a few years ago, I found that immigrants who arrive in the United States as refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries are eventually more likely to be employed or looking for work than people who are born in the U.S.

More home health aides and janitors

Some of the labor market’s biggest shortages are especially acute in professions that tend to attract immigrants, such as home health aides.

Making it easier to age in place

A team of economists has found that the cost of home healthcare and support services is lower than average in places with large numbers of immigrant service workers. This in turn makes it more likely that older adults can avoid institutionalization and stay in their own homes.

But, to be sure, immigrant workers providing these vital community support services often endure exploitative working conditions.

The labor market data not only makes it clear that the U.S. economy can absorb large numbers of immigrants, but it shows that these newcomers could be a much-needed solution to a labor-supply crisis.

Ramya Vijaya is a Professor of Economics at Stockton University.

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