The Growth And Reach Of Immigration: New Census Bureau Data Underscore Importance Of Immigrants In The US Labor Force
New data from the 2005 American Community Survey (ACS) , released by the Census Bureau on August 15, 2006, underscore the extent to which immigration continues to fuel the expansion of the U.S. labor force. The foreign-born population of the United States increased by 4.9 million between 2000 and 2005; raising the total foreign-born population to 35.7 million, or 12.4 percent of the 288.4 million people in the country. The foreign-born population includes legal immigrants who come here on permanent and temporary visas for work, study, and family reunification, as well as an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants who come for the same reasons but are generally precluded from obtaining visas by shortcomings in the U.S. immigration system.
Since most legal and undocumented immigrants alike come to the United States to work, it is no surprise that they are moving to all regions of the country. While the majority of immigrants still settle in traditional "gateway" states such as California, Florida, New York, and Texas, growing numbers also are settling in "non-traditional" destinations like South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Moreover, immigration is stabilizing the populations of many Northeastern states such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Yet the continued growth of the immigrant population and its dispersion to new locales does not imply that native-born workers are being displaced or otherwise disadvantaged by the influx of foreign-born workers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Immigrants are going where there are job openings and economic opportunities. As a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center concludes: "Between 2000 and 2004, there was a positive correlation between the increase in the foreign born population and the employment of native-born workers in 27 states and the District of Columbia," which "accounted for 67% of all native-born workers and include all the major destination states for immigrants." 
The primary reason that immigrants donít have a negative impact on the majority of native-born workers is that they arenít competing for the same jobs. The U.S. population is growing older and better educated, while the U.S. economy continues to create a large number of jobs that favor younger workers with little formal education. As a result, immigrants increasingly are filling jobs at the less-skilled end of the occupational spectrum for which relatively few native-born workers are available. According to the new ACS data, between 2000 and 2005, the median age of the U.S. population increased from 35.3 to 36.4 years old. During the same period, the share of adults with at least a high-school diploma increased from 80 to 84 percent, while the share with at least a bachelorís degree rose from 24 to 27 percent. Not surprisingly, few of these better educated (and older) native-born workers are willing or able to fill the frequently strenuous less-skilled jobs that donít even require a high-school education. But immigrants are. That immigrants come here to fill available jobs is evident in the fact that, as of 2005, 94 percent of adult male undocumented immigrants and 86 percent of adult male legal immigrants were in the labor force.  As Congress debates competing proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, it would do well to pay close attention to these trends. Immigrants are already an integral part of U.S. society and an indispensable part of the U.S. labor force.
According to the 2005 ACS data, the foreign-born population in 2005 numbered 35.7 million. While the U.S. population as a whole increased by 5.4 percent in the 2000-2005 period, the number of immigrants grew three times faster, at a rate of 16 percent.
About one in eight persons in the United States was born outside the country as of 2005. This represents an increase of more than one percent in five years. Immigrants comprise an even greater share of adults in the United States: 15.1 percent, or one in six persons.
Immigrants from Latin America constituted a majority (57.3 percent) of the 7.9 million new immigrants who arrived in the United States between 2000 and 2005. One quarter of recent arrivals came from Asia and about 9.6 percent from Europe. However, over this same time period, about 3 million foreign-born individuals in the United States either died or returned to their home countries, meaning that the foreign-born population as a whole increased by a lesser margin of 4.9 million.
Six states have immigrant populations of more than one million: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. These states have long been the major ports of entry for immigrants to the United States and this continues to be the case today. In 2005, two-thirds of immigrants in the United States resided in these traditional immigration gateways. However, immigrant populations of more than 500,000 are now found in new destinations such as North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia.
California still is the state with the highest proportion of immigrants in its population. More than 27 percent of California residents were foreign-born in 2005. Immigrants account for more than one in six persons (15 percent or more) in seven states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, and Hawaii.
Although the largest immigrant populations are still concentrated in a relatively small number of states, immigration growth rates are highest in "non-traditional" destinations in the South and Midwest. For instance, the number of immigrants in South Carolina grew by 47.8 percent in just the 2000-2005 period. In Georgia (which has the ninth largest immigrant population in the United States), the foreign-born population increased by almost 39 percent in five years.
Much of the immigration occurring in states with the highest immigration growth rates is recent. About 38 percent of immigrants in Alabama, for example, have entered the United States since 2000. Similar percentages are found in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The presence of many newly arrived immigrants suggests a need for settlement policies such as English-language classes to facilitate the integration of immigrants into U.S. society and thereby maximize their contributions to the U.S. economy.
In many Northeastern and Midwestern states which have aging populations and are experiencing out-migration and low fertility rates among natives, immigration plays an especially critical role in maintaining population size. Massachusetts is the most striking example. New immigration since 2000 actually exceeded overall population growth, suggesting that the state would have experienced a net population decline in the absence of immigration. Immigration also is a major factor in population stability in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Naturalized immigrants make up an increasing share of the potential electorate in states with large immigrant populations. Nowhere is this more evident than in California, which not only has a large immigrant population, but also was the site of large-scale naturalization drives in the 1990s. Today, naturalized immigrants comprise one in five voting-age adults in California. Naturalized immigrants are more than 10 percent of adults in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Florida.
The growth of the immigrant population since 2000, as well as the dispersion of immigration to new destinations and its role in shoring up the populations of some states, highlights the profound importance of immigration to the U.S. labor force. As a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute concluded, immigrant workers will likely account for between one-third and one-half of total U.S. labor-force growth through 2030.  The breadth and depth of this phenomenon contrasts with the failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform to adjust our nationís immigration laws to match demographic reality. Much more is needed in terms of admissions policy, including new categories of permanent and temporary visas for workers, family members, students, and other visitors, as well as the lifting of arbitrary numerical caps on immigration. Lawmakers also need to devote greater attention to settlement policy, such as English-language instruction and assistance with meeting other requirements for naturalization, to better integrate immigrants into U.S. society and increase their contributions to the U.S. economy. One can only hope that our lawmakers finally open their eyes to the demographic march of immigration.
1 The 2005 American Community Survey included 3 percent of all households in the United States, which represents a substantial advance in the quality of intercensal population estimates. The ACS excludes the small percentage of persons who live in group quarters including prisons and nursing homes. To make the numbers in this report comparable with the 2000 census (which covered the entire population), all 2000 data are for the population in households, excluding residents of group quarters.
2 Rakesh Kochhar, Growth in the Foreign-Born Workforce and Employment of the Native Born. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, August 10, 2006, p. ii.
3 Jeffrey S. Passel, The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.: Estimates Based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, March 7, 2005, p. 9.
4 B. Lindsay Lowell, Julia Gelatt & Jeanne Batalova, Immigrants and Labor Force Trends: The Future, Past, and Present. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, July 2006, p. 1.
Copyright: The material above was originally produced by the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation. Reproduced with Permission.
Rob Paral is a Research Fellow with the Immigration Policy Center; he is also a Fellow with the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Norkewicz provided invaluable data processing skills to make this report possible.
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