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Amid U.S. Demand for Higher Skills and Education, Credentialing Immigrant-Origin Adult Workers Could Be Key
Press Release
Thursday, March 7, 2019

Amid U.S. Demand for Higher Skills and Education, Credentialing Immigrant-Origin Adult Workers Could Be Key

WASHINGTON — The United States will face an estimated shortfall of 8 million workers between now and 2027, amid an aging U.S. workforce, the retirement of baby boomers and declining birth rates. At the same time, the nearly 58 million U.S. adults who are either immigrants or the children of immigrants are projected to be the primary source of future U.S. labor force growth.

Yet about 30 million of these 58 million immigrant-origin adults lack a post-secondary credential (either a college degree or training beyond high school resulting in an apprenticeship certificate, professional certification or occupational license), according to a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report that offers the first-ever profile of this population. These immigrant-origin adults represent 30 percent of the 100 million U.S. adults ages 16 to 64 who lack post-secondary credentials.

In an era of increasing labor market demand for higher levels of education and skills, the question of whether immigrant-origin adults are prepared to fully engage in the knowledge-based economy is taking on new urgency.

“Helping a significant share of these 30 million immigrant-origin adults obtain high-quality, marketable post-secondary credentials can become a critical tool in meeting national and state higher education attainment goals, addressing current and projected labor shortages and raising labor productivity,” said report co-author and MPI Senior Fellow Michael Fix.

Beyond offering data at U.S. and state levels on the degree and non-degree credential attainment of adults by immigrant generation, the report breaks new ground by exploring the relationship between these credentials and the economic outcomes of immigrant-origin adults.

Among the key findings and the policy implications they raise:

  • Between 2000 and 2017, the immigrant (first generation) and children of immigrant (second generation) adult populations grew rapidly, particularly when compared to U.S.-born adults with U.S.-born parents (third and higher generations): 59 percent and 41 percent for the first and second generations respectively, versus 6 percent for the third and higher generations. Looking at the prime working-age population (ages 25 to 54), the centrality of the immigrant-origin population becomes even more apparent: between 2000 and 2017, there was a decline of 7 percent in the third and higher generations even as the first and second generations experienced significant growth.
  • Immigrant-origin adults account for at least 30 percent of those without post-secondary credentials nationally and in 14 states. These states include traditional immigrant destinations such as California, Texas and New York, as well as newer destinations and less immigrant-dense states such as Nevada, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington. Fifty-eight percent of Californians who lack a post-secondary credential are of immigrant origin.
  • Non-degree credentials provide positive labor-market returns. Immigrant-origin adults holding certifications or licenses in occupations ranging from barbers to licensed practical nurses have higher levels of labor-force participation, higher incomes and lower rates of unemployment than their counterparts who lack them. These positive outcomes underscore the value of increasing access to non-degree credentials as a strategy for promoting mobility and accelerating immigrant integration.
  • Because most immigrant-origin adults without post-secondary credentials are Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander or black, closing attainment gaps can contribute to breaking the cycle of educational and economic disadvantage and to reducing social inequality.

“English proficiency and legal status represent two formidable barriers to obtaining credentials,” said co-author Jeanne Batalova, an MPI senior policy analyst. “The 16.7 million adults who lack post-secondary credentials and are limited English proficient would benefit from skills training linked to learning English.”

The report is part of a research project funded through a grant from the Lumina Foundation. In two weeks, MPI will release data snapshots with detailed information by state on the adult population without post-secondary credentials, by immigrant generation. The snapshots will be accompanied by an issue brief that provides an overview of some key state-level findings.

Today’s report, Credentials for the Future: Mapping the Potential for Immigrant-Origin Adults in the United States, can be accessed here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/credentials-immigrant-origin-adults-united-states.