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Diversity in Diverse Work Areas

Friday, March 23, 2012

With unemployment hanging stubbornly at uncomfortably high levels and economic output remaining sluggish, it is tempting for some to think that there is no place for immigrants in the American workforce. However, a study just released by the Brookings Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy, a national bipartisan group of more than 400 business leaders and mayors, has shown this is not the case ( Not only do immigrants fill vital roles for both high-skill and low-skill sectors of the economy, they are more likely to be of working age than native-born workers and fill different roles than them as well.

The study examined four low-skilled and four high-skilled sectors of the American economy: accommodation, agriculture, construction, food services, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing, information technology, and life sciences. What do these industry sectors have in common? They are 8 of the 15 industry sectors anticipated to create the largest number of jobs between 2010 and 2020. In addition, immigrant workers are heavily represented in these sectors.

Since 1970, the percentage of immigrants in the general population has grown 160%, while the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has increased more than 200% during this same period. The difference between these two figures indicates that immigrants are more likely to be of working age than their native-born counterparts. And with native-born Americans having fewer children than past generations and growing numbers approaching retirement, this trend should continue.

Interestingly, one intriguing finding that emerged from the study was that immigrants and native-born workers tend to work in different jobs within both high- and low-skilled industries, as well as high- and low-skilled positions within an industry in some instances. Take healthcare, for example. In this field, immigrants are almost twice as likely to work as physicians and surgeons as native-born workers. On the other hand, immigrants are also nearly twice as likely as native-born workers to be employed as home health aides. With 75 million baby boomers set to retire in the next 20 years, the need for healthcare workers will rise dramatically, and immigrant workers will be filling a critical part of this demand.

Researchers also found that immigrant and native-born workers have different levels of education within the sectors they studied. In high-skilled sectors, immigrants had slightly higher levels of education than native-born workers. For instance, in the information technology industry, 87.2% of immigrant workers have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 72.5% of native-born workers do.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the co-chair of the Parnership for a New American Economy, observed, “Our economy is changing faster than ever, and we need to ensure that we have access to all the skills we need to compete in an increasingly global, increasingly specialized, and increasingly complex marketplace.” Bloomberg also noted that immigrants don’t merely fill our current and anticipated needs, they also provide an integral competitive advantage over rival nations.

And in this age of hyper-globalization, we will need every advantage we can get.

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