Issue Brief

Immigrant Employment by State and Industry

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Note: This issue brief was updated on March 14, 2016 to reflect the correct years of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011-13 American Community Survey.

Shifting demographics nationwide are changing the face of American employment. Immigrants make up 13 percent of the population and 17 percent of the workforce, but their employment patterns contrast with those of their U.S.-born counterparts across industries and states. Understanding these differences as well as the realities unique to their states is vital for policymakers as they consider strategies to boost their economies and develop their workforces. To help them get the clear picture they need, The Pew Charitable Trusts produced first-of-their-kind data on the likelihood that immigrant workers are employed in 13 major industries, compared with U.S.-born workers, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This brief discusses some insights from those data and is a companion to an online interactive tool that captures the data and provides information on how each industry contributes to states’ overall employment and economic output. The data focus on industries—the types of businesses—and do not explore occupations (the tasks or functions performed by individual workers within a business). Following are some key takeaways that can help guide exploration of the interactive and inform strategies by which policymakers make use of the data:

  • At the national level, immigrant workers are distributed differently across industries than their U.S.-born counterparts. Immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born workers to hold jobs in six of the 13 major industries examined, including manufacturing and administrative services.
  • The distribution of immigrants across industries differs from state to state, but some trends are widespread throughout the states, and some industries display patterns of regional clustering. For example, immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born workers to be employed in construction in the Southern states.
  • Immigrants are less likely than the U.S.-born to be employed in seven industries at the national level, but they may be more likely to work in one or more of those sectors in individual states. For example, immigrants nationwide are less likely than U.S.-born workers to be employed in education services and professional, scientific, technical, and management services, but in several states, immigrants are more likely to work in those sectors.
  • The distribution of immigrant and U.S.-born workers across industries can differ, regardless of the size of a state’s immigrant population. In Montana, a state with a small foreign-born population, immigrants are more likely than the U.S.-born to work in five sectors, including education services; health care and social services; leisure and hospitality; manufacturing; and professional, scientific, technical, and management services. In California, which has a large immigrant population, foreign-born workers have a greater likelihood of being employed in six sectors compared with U.S.-born workers, including two—leisure and hospitality and manufacturing—also observed in Montana.

Note that the terms “foreign born” and “immigrant” are used interchangeably to refer to individuals who were not U.S. citizens at birth, who were born outside the United States and its territories, and whose parents are not U.S. citizens. Further, the analysis examined all foreign-born people as a group because the data did not support distinguishing between authorized and unauthorized immigrants.

These data, particularly when considered in the context of information about nationwide demographic changes and factors that distinguish immigrants and U.S.-born workers, can help policymakers better understand their working populations and economies and can be used to inform decisions on policies and investments to support a changing workforce. Pew takes no position on federal or state laws and policies related to immigration but does seek to provide data to inform policymaking at all levels of government.

Media Contact

Jeremy Ratner

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