Trends in the Low-Wage Immigrant Workforce
This brief focuses on the role of immigrants in the low-wage and lower-skilled labor force. An examination of trends between 2000 and 2005 indicate that the number and share of immigrants, especially the unauthorized, increased most rapidly in low-wage, low-skilled jobs. The concurrent decline in the numbers of native-born low-wage and lower-skilled workers suggest, at first glance, that the influx of immigrants displaced native workers in the low-wage labor force. Authors argue, however, that the demographic evidence regarding the impact of immigrants on the low-wage, native-born labor force is mixed, and attribute perceived changes to the composition of the low-wage labor force to a much more complex interplay of shifting trends in the characteristics of both native and foreign born workers. To this end, the brief examines patterns in the earnings, educational attainment, gender composition, labor force participation, and unemployment rates of native and immigrant labor pools.
The report’s findings suggest that the improving skills, as measured by educational attainment, of native-born adults—fueled by the significant growth in the number of native women earning high school degrees or beyond—could be increasing the demographic and economic demand for lower-skilled immigrants. The report also underscores the uneven impact of the economic downturn across native and immigrant groups as a contributing factor; while unemployment rates rose for all native groups with less than a college degree and among high school- and college-educated immigrants, unemployment fell for all immigrant groups with less than a high school degree. Despite the absence of a conclusive link between immigration and the employment patterns of low-skilled native-born adults, authors call attention to the growing importance of immigrant workers in key areas of the economy and articulate the need for further research concerning the dynamics of entry and exit at both the low and high ends of the labor market.