E.g., 09/28/2023
E.g., 09/28/2023
Still an Hourglass? Immigrant Workers in Middle-Skilled Jobs

Despite conventional wisdom that the U.S. immigrant workforce is shaped like an hourglass—wide at the top and the bottom but narrow in the middle— in reality immigrants are more evenly dispersed across the skills spectrum. This report shows that the fastest growth in immigrant employment since 2000 has occurred in middle-skilled jobs and examines whether immigrants have been able to find good jobs in the United States before and during the 2007-09 recession. The authors study four major U.S. industries: the more highly skilled health care and information technology sectors and the lower-skilled construction and hospitality sectors.

The analysis presents a mixed picture of the incorporation of immigrants in the economy as a whole, but finds that prerecession, immigrants were being hired at all skills levels and progressing substantially in their earnings in these sectors. Immigrant penetration from the bottom to the top of job ladders was significant, with especially rapid growth occurring in middle-skilled jobs, many of which pay family-sustaining wages. In many career pathways, immigrants remain underrepresented in higher-skilled jobs and managerial positions. Many of the middle-skilled jobs that less educated, limited English proficient, recently arrived, and young immigrants held in construction vanished in the recession.

These results raise policy concerns on the targeting, effectiveness, and funding of work-preparing institutions to move immigrants into family-sustaining jobs and whether the current largely family-based permanent immigration system may be meeting the needs of the labor force to a degree that has gone unrecognized.

Read the Report in Brief here.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction and Approach
A. Approach
B. Data Employed
C. Report Organization

II. Immigrant Incorporation in the U.S. Economy
A. The Demographic, Economic, and Policy Context
B. Recent and Projected Trends in Immigrant Employment
C. The Skill and Education Levels of Immigrant Workers
D. Jobs Paying Family-Sustaining Wages
E. Characteristics of Immigrants Holding Good Jobs

III. Immigrant Incorporation in the Health Care Sector
A. Past and Projected Future Growth
B. Abundance of Middle-Skilled Jobs
C. Family-Sustaining Wages Earned by Majority of Immigrants
D. Career Pathways Offer High Returns for Postsecondary Credentials
E. Characteristics of Immigrants Holding Good Jobs

IV. Immigrant Incorporation in Information Technology
A. Immigrant Employment Rose and Native Employment Fell before the Recession
B. Greater Drop in Immigrant Employment Since the Recession
C. Over 90 Percent of Immigrant Jobs are High- or Middle-Skilled
D. Almost All Jobs Pay Family-Sustaining Wages
E. Even Entry-Level Jobs Have Significant Skill Requirements
F. Characteristics of Immigrants Holding Good Jobs

V. Immigrant Incorporation in Construction
A. Broad-Based Growth in Immigrant Employment before the Recession
B. Recession Leads to Steep Drop in Immigrant Employment
C. Immigrants Represent Large Shares of Low- and Middle-Skilled Workers
D. Fewer Immigrants Earn Family-Sustaining Wages
E. Career Pathways Available through Training and Experience
F. Characteristics of Immigrants Holding Good Jobs

VI. Immigrant Incorporation in Hospitality
A. Rapid Growth, Mostlyin Low-Skilled Jobs
B. Immigrants Mostly in Low-Skilled, "Back-of-the-House" Jobs
C. Few Immigrants Earn Family-Sustaining Wages
D. Career Pathways Depend on Work Experience and Acquisition of Supervisory or Managerial Responsibilities
E. Characteristics of Immigrants Holding Good Jobs

VII. Conclusion