While Their Employment Has Bounced Back Since the Height of the Pandemic, Immigrants Are Not Optimally Positioned for the U.S. Economic Recovery
WASHINGTON — While much remains uncertain, economic indicators in the United States appear to be improving after the dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. unemployment rate fell from 14.4 percent at its peak in April 2020 to 5.7 percent in July 2021. Immigrants, who initially lost jobs at a much higher rate than U.S.-born workers, have since seen their unemployment rate drop below that of the U.S. born. Still, the overall number of employed immigrants has suffered a steep fall. And immigrants are not well poised to take advantage of the U.S. economic recovery, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) issue brief finds.
“As the country looks ahead to the post-pandemic recovery, immigrants are at a labor market disadvantage relative to the U.S.-born population because of the regions where they live and the industries in which they work,” MPI researchers Randy Capps, Jeanne Batalova and Julia Gelatt write.
The brief, Immigrants’ U.S. Labor Market Disadvantage in the COVID-19 Economy: The Role of Geography and Industries of Employment, draws on analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data to examine the extent to which immigrant employment has recovered, with a focus on the differences in employment patterns across U.S. regions and major industries.
The analysis shows that there has been a steeper drop in the number of employed immigrants than U.S.-born adults during the periods surveyed, in part due to border closures, slowdowns in visa processing and other immigration restrictions. While immigrants comprised 17 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2019, they accounted for 28 percent of the 5.2 million decline in employed workers when comparing the same May – July periods in 2019 and 2021.
Immigrant employment fell the most in the Pacific and Middle Atlantic, and in industries such as hospitality and construction that are struggling to recover from the pandemic. On the other hand, immigrant employment rose in the East South Central and West South Central subregions as well as in smaller cities and rural areas. And industries with lower shares of immigrant workers, such as public administration and health services, appear to be rebounding more quickly.
“If these economic trends continue, they are likely to lead to greater geographic dispersal of the immigrant population away from the traditional gateway cities,” the authors conclude. “Many of the smaller urban and rural areas that currently have relatively strong economies also have stable or declining populations—and potential unmet labor market needs.”
Read the issue brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigrants-covid19-geography-industries.
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Access a related interactive data tool that displays monthly unemployment rates before and during the pandemic by nativity, gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment and industry of employment here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/migration-data-hub/us-unemployment-trends-during-pandemic.
And for a related look at the future of work and how the changing mix of jobs could affect immigrant-origin workers, check out this report.
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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.