The share of the U.S. labor force composed of the foreign born was little changed in 2009, and their unemployment rate rose from 5.8 to 9.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on March 19. The jobless rate of the native born increased from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 9.2 percent in 2009.
This news release compares the labor force characteristics of the foreign born with those of their native-born counterparts. The data on nativity are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of approximately 60,000 households. The foreign born are persons who reside in the United States but who were born outside the country or one of its outlying areas to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The foreign born include legally-admitted immigrants, refugees, temporary residents such as students and temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants. The survey data, however, do not separately identify the numbers of persons in these categories.
Some highlights from the 2009 data are:
In 2009, men made up a larger proportion of the foreign-born labor force (59.3 percent) than they did of the native-born labor force (52.2 percent). The proportion of the foreign-born labor force made up of 25- to 54-year-olds was higher than for their native-born counterparts (76.7 and 65.6 percent, respectively); labor force participation is typically highest among persons in that age bracket.
Hispanics comprised 50.1 percent of the foreign-born labor force in 2009, compared with 8.0 percent of the native-born labor force. Asians made up 22.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force, compared with 1.3 percent of the native-born labor force. (Data in this release for persons who are white, black, or Asian does not include those of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Data on persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity is presented separately.)
In 2009, 26.7 percent of the foreign-born labor force 25 years old and over had not completed high school, compared with 5.7 percent of the native-born labor force. Similar proportions of foreign-born and native-born persons in the labor force had a bachelor's or higher degree (31.8 and 34.9 percent, respectively). Foreign-born workers were less likely than native-born workers to have some college or an associate degree – 17.0 vs. 29.8 percent.
Labor Force and Unemployment
In 2009, 67.9 percent of the foreign born were in the labor force, little changed from 2008. Over the year, the labor force participation rate of native-born workers fell by 0.7 percentage point to 64.9 percent. In 2009, both the number of foreign-born labor force participants (23.9 million) and their share of the U.S. civilian labor force (15.5 percent) were little changed for the second year in a row, after increasing steadily from 1996 to 2007.
The labor force participation rate of foreign-born men was 80.5 percent in 2009, compared with 70.4 percent for native-born men. Among women, 55.4 percent of foreign-born women were labor force participants, compared with 59.8 percent of native-born women.
Among the major race and ethnicity groups, labor force participation rates of foreign-born whites (59.8 percent), blacks (72.4 percent) and Asians (67.7 percent) were down over the year. The rate for foreign-born Hispanics (70.8 percent) was little changed in 2009. Among the native born, labor force participation rates for all the major race and ethnicity groups fell over the year.
In 2009, foreign-born mothers with children under age 18 were less likely to be labor force participants than native-born mothers – 61.2 vs. 74.0 percent. Among women with children under age 3, the participation rate for the foreign born was 45.8 percent, while that for the native born was 64.9 percent. The labor force participation rate of both foreign- and native-born fathers with children under age 18 was about 94 percent.
The over-the-year increase in the unemployment rate of foreign-born workers – from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 9.7 percent in 2009 – reflected increases in the rates for both men and women. The unemployment rate for foreign-born men rose from 5.7 to 10.0 percent, and the rate for foreign-born women was up from 6.0 to 9.2 percent. Among the native born, the unemployment rate increased from 5.8 to 9.2 percent over the year. The rate for men rose from 6.2 to 10.3 percent, while the rate for women was up from 5.3 to 7.9 percent.
By region, the foreign born made up a larger share of the labor force in 2009 in the West (23.8 percent) and in the Northeast (17.9 percent) than for the nation as a whole (15.5 percent). In contrast, the foreign born made up a smaller share of the labor force than for the nation in the South (13.8 percent) and Midwest (7.7 percent).
In 2009, foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations (24.7 versus 16.3 percent); in production, transportation, and material moving occupations (15.8 vs. 10.6 percent); and in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (13.5 vs. 8.8 percent). Native-born workers were more likely than foreign-born workers to be employed in management, professional and related occupations – 38.9 vs. 28.9 percent.
Foreign-born men were more likely than native-born men to be employed in natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations; production, transportation, material moving occupations; and in service occupations. Compared with native-born women, foreign-born women were more likely to be employed in service occupations and in production, transportation and material moving occupations.
In 2009, the median usual weekly earnings of foreign-born full-time wage and salary workers were $602, compared with $761 for the native born. Among men, median earnings for the foreign born were $620 per week, while the native born earned $864 per week. The median usual weekly earnings for foreign-born women were $567, compared with $670 for native-born women.
As with the native born, the earnings of foreign-born workers increased with education. Foreign-born workers age 25 and over with less than a high school education earned $415 per week in 2009, while those with bachelor's degrees and higher earned about 2.7 times as much – $1,129 per week.
The gap between the earnings of foreign-born and native-born workers narrows with higher levels of education. Among those with less than a high school diploma in 2009, full-time workers who were foreign born earned 83.3 percent as much as their native-born counterparts. Among those with a bachelor's degree and higher, foreign-born workers earned almost as much (99.2 percent) as native-born workers.