BLS: U.S. Employment Picture Better for Foreign-Born Than Native-Born in 2015

Susan Jones | May 20, 2016 | 10:18am EDT
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Migrant workers pick grape tomatoes in Rocky Point, N.C. (AP File Photo)

( - In 2015, the unemployment rate for foreign-born people in the United States (4.9 percent) was better than that for native-born Americans (5.4 percent), the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday.

Likewise, the labor force participation rate among the foreign born was 65.2 percent, better than the 62.2 percent for native-born Americans in 2015.

BLS defines foreign-born persons as those who live in the United States but who were born outside the country to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The foreign born include legally-admitted immigrants as well as those who came here illegally; refugees; and temporary residents such as students and temporary workers.

In 2015, there were 26.3 million foreign-born people in the U.S. labor force, or 16.7 percent of the total, up from 16.5 percent of the total in 2014, BLS reported.

Nearly half (48.8 percent) of the foreign-born labor force was Hispanic; almost one-quarter (24.1 percent) was Asian, followed by white (16.8 percent) and black 9.2 percent.

Whites dominate the native-born labor force (73.9 percent), followed by blacks (12.1 percent), Hispanics (10.2 percent) and Asians (1.9 percent).

For both the foreign born and the native born, unemployment rates varied considerably by race and ethnicity. Among the foreign born, blacks had the highest unemployment rate (7.4 percent) in 2015, and the same was true for native-born blacks (9.9 percent).

Among the foreign born, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent for Hispanics; 4.0 percent for whites; and 3.7 percent for Asians.  That compares with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent for native-born Hispanics; Asians (4.3 percent) and whites (4.2 percent).

The participation rate among foreign-born men was 78.2 percent in 2015, higher than the 67.3 percent participation rate for native-born men. In contrast, 52.9 percent of foreign-born women were labor force participants, lower than the rate of 57.4 percent for native-born women.

BLS found that in 2015, foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations, such as construction, maintenance, and transportation occupations. Native-born workers were more likely than foreign-born workers to be employed in management, professional, occupations, including sales and office jobs.

(Data on the employment situation for native and foreign-born people comes from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, a monthly sample survey of some 60,000 households.)

Median weekly earnings for foreign-born workers ($681) were lower for foreign-born workers than they were for native-born ($837); BLS said the difference stems partly from variations in educational attainment, occupation, and geographic region. (Native-born workers earned more than the foreign born at most educational attainment levels.)

In 2015, 23.9 percent of the foreign-born labor force age 25 and over had not completed high school, compared with 4.6 percent of the native-born labor force. The foreign born also were less likely than the native born to have some college or an associate degree (16.9 percent versus 29.9 percent).

But the proportions for foreign-born and native-born persons that had a bachelor's degree and higher were more similar (34.9 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively).

By region, the foreign born made up a larger share of the labor force in the West (24.0 percent) and in the Northeast (19.5 percent) than for the nation as a whole (16.7 percent) in 2015. In contrast, the foreign born made up a smaller share of the labor force than for the nation as a whole in the South (15.5 percent) and Midwest (8.7 percent).

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has complained that high immigration levels, both legal and illegal, are taking jobs away from native-born Americans. "At this point in time, our economy cannot sustain the current lawful rate of immigration, much less the illegal flow," he told a congressional hearing in March.


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