Including Immigrants in Efforts to Upskill U.S. Workers Would Help Meet Employer Needs in a Rapidly Changing Labor Market
WASHINGTON, DC — As the U.S. labor market is reshaped by technological change, aging and declines in fertility and legal immigration, there is a consensus that for the economy to grow with fewer workers, productivity will have to increase and workers will need higher levels of skills and training. In stark contrast with past trends, 80 percent of today’s jobs require more than a high school degree. Yet more than 115 million U.S. adults lacked education or training beyond high school as of 2019, with 21 percent of them immigrants.
A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) issue brief out today, Diverging Pathways: Immigrants’ Legal Status and Access to Postsecondary Credentials, estimates that nearly 24 million immigrant adults in the United States lack a college degree, apprenticeship certificate or professional license. Using a unique methodology for assigning legal status to the foreign born in Census Bureau data, the analysis breaks this population down by U.S. citizenship and legal status to better understand its characteristics. It also profiles the immigrant subgroups with the greatest potential for credential acquisition as well as those facing the most significant hurdles.
Efforts to upskill U.S. workers are particularly relevant in a labor market where the number of job openings—many in middle- and high-skill positions—is high, at 11.2 million as of the end of July, and when economists have begun to detect a decline in labor productivity.
“Several broad, long-running trends—such as the declining fertility and aging of the U.S. population—reinforce the logic of including immigrants in workforce development policies and programs,” authors Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix write. “Taken together, these labor market and demographic trends mean that the country’s sustained growth will depend on how well the United States trains and utilizes its available workforce, including immigrants.”
The issue brief, which draws upon the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey to examine the age 16-64 population, finds that:
- More than half of the 23.9 million immigrants without postsecondary credentials were concentrated in four states: California (25 percent of the total), Texas (13 percent), and New York and Florida (each with 9 percent). An additional 10 percent resided in either Illinois, New Jersey or Georgia.
- Two-thirds (or 15.8 million) of all immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials are legally present, eligible for key federal and state programs that promote credential attainment. These naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (also known as green-card holders), refugees and asylees are qualified to receive public support for education and training through programs such as Pell Grants.
- Of the 7.7 million unauthorized immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials, 788,000 are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and 397,000 are eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). While their lack of legal status makes them ineligible for federal and many state programs that support upskilling, DACA holders are well positioned to attain marketable postsecondary credentials given their higher education and English levels, relative youth and more limited likelihood of having young children. Several legislative proposals have been advanced that would extend Pell Grants and student loans to DACA and TPS recipients.
- Most immigrant adults lacking postsecondary credentials had education levels that should position them to obtain credentials relatively rapidly and inexpensively. Fifty-eight percent had earned a high school degree or had attended some college. Notably, virtually the entire DACA-eligible population had earned either a high school degree or had attended some college—in large part because of the DACA program’s eligibility requirements. At the same time, a significant number of immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials had not completed high school (10.1 million or 42 percent). For them, attaining such credentials would likely take greater investments of time and money.
- Latino and Black adults comprised 73 percent of immigrants without postsecondary credentials, underscoring both the racial equity and immigrant integration imperatives for closing gaps in credential attainment.
- Many immigrant adults face challenges accessing and completing postsecondary education and training, including residing in a low-income household, having young children, low levels of English proficiency or being older than the typical college-going age.
“Most adult immigrants in the United States who lack credentials are legally present, and most have at least a high school education and are ready targets for state efforts to increase the number of residents with high-quality credentials,” Batalova and Fix conclude. “Including these adults in broader efforts to upskill and credential the workforce would expand their mobility while at the same time closing skills gaps and meeting employers’ labor force needs. Additionally, given the high share of racial and ethnic minorities among immigrant adults without postsecondary credentials, their more purposeful inclusion in education and training programs would help advance the important social goal of promoting greater equity.”
Read the issue brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigrants-status-postsecondary-credentials.