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Gary E. Frank headshot

Turns out, Immigrants Do Have a Large Role in Securing a Sustainable Economy

Data from the American Immigration Council underscore the role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy - as in making it more sustainable and secure.
By Gary E. Frank

Data released recently by the American Immigration Council underscore the crucial role immigrants play in the U.S. economy and how continued immigration will help address ongoing labor shortages while creating a more stable and sustainable economy during the next decade.

The Council’s report analyzes how the demand for various occupations across the U.S. labor market have changed since before the COVID-19 pandemic and which occupations are expected to increase by 2030. 

Employing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the American Community Survey, and the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass, the report assesses shifts in the labor market since before the start of the pandemic, determines which occupations will experience increased demand, and analyzes the role of immigrant workers within occupations that will have the highest growth potential during the next decade.

“Our findings reveal that not only are the most in-demand jobs now expected to continue to outpace the supply of available labor in the near term, but by 2030 millions of additional workers will be needed to fill new jobs and those vacated by retiring workers,” said Andrew Lim, a research director at the American Immigration Council, in a public statement. “While young people entering the workforce will fill many jobs, the gap between the demand and a diminishing supply of U.S.-born workers suggest that more workers will need to come from abroad to make up for the shortfall — or these positions will go unfilled.” 

Immigrants don’t disrupt or harm the economy — they stabilize it

While the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in huge disruptions to the U.S. labor market, the Council’s research found that immigrants have been a stabilizing force, as they often filled openings in essential occupations while meeting some of the demand in rapidly growing fields, Lim noted. 

The stubbornly tight labor market has left open jobs unfilled at a steadily increasing rate. Of the 165 million U.S. jobs expected to exist in 2030, nearly half — or about 80 million — will be vacated by people retiring, changing careers or exiting the labor market altogether, according to the report. Meanwhile the occupations that grew the most between 2019 to 2021 were the ones with large representation by immigrants. 

Further, job growth patterns during the next decade are likely to be remarkably different from those that unfolded during the COVID-19 crisis, the report concludes.

A need stretching beyond ‘essential workers’

Although many of those future jobs will be filled by people who due to their age will start their own transitions into the workforce, demographic trends cited in the Council’s report suggest that the U.S. labor market in 2030 will still have an excess of vacant positions. Baby boomers will be rapidly sunsetting from the workforce, and the numbers suggest that the population of Gen Z, despite this generation’s growing presence in the job market, will not be enough to fill in those gaps. That’s where immigrants come in.

While almost all occupational groups saw an increase in job postings, the job categories that witnessed the most dramatic growth between 2019 and 2021 were those society considered as “essential” during the pandemic. This includes healthcare practitioners and healthcare support workers as well as other roles considered vital to the basic functioning of modern society, such as in transportation, food preparation, construction and manufacturing.

According to data cited in the report, immigrants currently make up almost 14 percent of the U.S. population, but are disproportionately represented in several “essential" job categories. Such occupations include health care practitioners (16 percent), transportation (19 percent), engineering (20 percent), personal care (20 percent), food preparation (21 percent), manufacturing (22 percent), health care support (22 percent), computer and mathematical jobs (25 percent), and construction (28 percent). Immigrants are even more represented in healthcare occupations, as nearly a third of physicians and 1 in 5 lab technicians in the U.S. are foreign-born.

A changing job market still faces stiff opposition to immigration

The data show that many fields vital to the growth and stability of the U.S. economy rely on immigrant professionals today — and will continue to rely on them in the future. But that does not mean it will be smooth sailing for qualified immigrants who seek opportunities in the U.S.—and definitely not for the organizations that seek to hire them.

The skunk at the picnic are the negative feelings about immigration among a sizable minority of U.S. citizens. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is percolating more and more as the 2022 midterm elections approach, with survey data from earlier this month suggesting that one in three U.S. adults believe an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains. Roughly 3 in 10 also expressed concern that more immigration is causing U.S.-born Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence, according to the poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to fear a loss of influence due to immigration by a ratio of 36 percent to 27 percent. Considering the polarized climate in the U.S., that is not a huge gap, and it reveals how prevalent resistance to immigration is among a sizable part of the U.S. population.

Still, two-thirds of those surveyed in the same AP-NORC poll believe that the nation’s increasingly diverse population makes for a stronger country, and far more favor than oppose a path to legal status for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Nevertheless, the greatest anxieties about changing demographics in the U.S. are among people who are more likely to engage in or promote conspiracy theories about immigration — even though the data make it clear that the U.S. will need immigrants to fill the copious number of jobs expected to open during the 2020s.

Image credit: Nitish Meena via Unsplash

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

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