Congressional Budget Office highlights changes in the U.S. workforce
by Dr. Susan Weishar, Ph.D.
A major finding from a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is that foreign-born workers constitute a substantial and growing proportion of the U.S. labor force—that is people with a job or looking for one. In 2009 one in seven members of the labor force was foreign-born, compared to one in ten in 2004. Nevertheless, the rate of growth of the U.S. foreign-born labor force was much higher between 1994 and 2004—with an average increase of 5.2 percent a year—than the 2.2 percent annual average increase in immigrant workers in the labor force between 2004 and 2009. As a share of the total U.S. labor force, the foreign-born labor force grew from 10 percent in 1994 to 14.5 percent in 2004 to 15.5 percent in 2009. (The CBO report does not distinguish documented from undocumented immigrant workers in its figures.)
The Role of Immigrants in the Labor Force: An Update, released in July, updates a similar report released by the CBO in 2005 covering the time period 1994 to 2004, which also analyzed data on foreign-born workers from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Surveys. The report includes tables showing figures on the number of foreign-born workers, where they are from, the types of work they perform, how much they earn, and their educational attainment.
- Foreign-born workers are largely concentrated in six states (CA, NY, TX, IL, FL, NJ), where 15 million of the 24 million foreign-born members of the U.S. labor force reside. Over time, however, the foreign-born labor force has become less geographically concentrated. In 1994, 74 percent of the nation’s total foreign-born labor force was concentrated in the “big six” states. In 2009 that number had fallen to 65 percent.
- In 2009, 40 percent of the foreign-born labor force was from Mexico and Central America, and over 25 percent from Asia. Over half of workers from Mexico and Central America did not have a high school diploma or GED credential. This group has become more educated over time, with average number of years of schooling increasing from 9.5 percent in 2004 to 9.8 percent in 2009.
- Native-born workers with foreign-born parents are likely to earn substantially more than their parents at comparable states in their life. Nevertheless, workers whose parents are from Central America or Mexico earn substantially less than native-born workers with native-born parents.
One of the most important findings of the CBO report is that the occupations of immigrant workers differ significantly from their native born counterparts. Almost half (45 percent) of all workers born in Mexico and Central America are concentrated in three of 22 occupational groups: construction and extraction; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; and production. Immigrant workers not from Mexico or Central America were more than twice as likely as native-born workers to be in computer and mathematical sciences. Such findings suggest that immigrants and native born workers are not in direct competition with each other for most jobs because they are filling different niches in the U.S. labor market. See detailed analyses by the Immigration Policy Center which conclude that little apparent relationship exists between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level. 
For the full CBO report, read more »
 Rob Paral & Associates, The Unemployment and Immigration Disconnect: Untying the Kno, Part I of III, Immigrant Policy Center, (May, 2007). Available online at http://immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/untying-knot-series-unemployment-and-immigration.