Native-born Americans make up a majority of workers in nearly every occupation — including jobs Americans supposedly won’t do, according to a study released Monday.
The report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which examined census data, pierces the oft-repeated “jobs American’s won’t do” myth. Steven Camarota, who co-wrote the study, said immigrants certainly dominate certain occupations in some parts of the country.
But he said the experience of other parts of the country dispels the fear that jobs would be left undone if not for immigration.
“That argument assumes a form of segregation in the workforce that does not exist,” said Camarota, director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The report updates research CIS performed a couple of years ago, only with a more sophisticated model that not only breaks down employees by national origin but also estimates the share of jobs held by illegal immigrants. It is based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) from the years 2012 through 2016.
The authors examined all 474 civilian occupations as defined by the Department of Commerce and found only six in which non-natives hold a majority — graders and sorters of agricultural products; plasterers and stucco masons; sewing machine operators; tailors, dressmakers and sewers; miscellaneous personal appearance workers; and miscellaneous agricultural workers.
But Camarota said workers in those professions make up only about 1 percent of the U.S. workforce. “They’re almost irrelevant,” he said.
Even among the six occupations with foreign-born majorities, some of the immigrant laborers have become naturalized citizens. And about 755,000 workers were born in the United States, according to the study.
“They still make up almost half even in those occupations,” Camarota said.
If there truly were jobs that Americans refuse to do, Camarota said, it would be impossible for businesses to fill vacancies in parts of the country where the foreign-born population is small. But that is not the case, he said.
“Where there are not immigrants, Americans do the jobs,” he said.
Activist Blames Business Interests
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, blamed big corporate interests.
“Obviously, it comes from business owners because they want foreign labor that can be paid less than what Americans would demand,” he said.
Chmielenski said “sympathetic media” amplify the talking point, in part because national reporters tend to be clustered in large urban areas where the immigrant population is high.
“It reinforces the claim that employers are making,” he said.
The CIS study indicates that Americans make up a majority of workers even in a number of occupations traditionally associated with immigrants. They are 51 percent of maids and housekeepers, for instance. Americans also make up 54 percent of taxi drivers and chauffeurs, 64 percent of butchers and meat processors, 66 percent of grounds maintenance workers, and 65 percent of construction laborers.
Camarota said the data indicate that immigration disproportionately creates competition with Americans who have less education. A majority of occupations in which immigrants make up at least 25 percent of the workforce are lower-wage positions that require little formal education or training.
“There’s no such thing as occupations that are majority illegal immigrant.”
Among native-born Americans working in those positions, 54 percent have high school diplomas or less. That compares with 30 percent of the rest of the labor force.
The study indicates that unemployment rates also are higher, on average, in those immigrant-dominated occupations. The unemployment rate for the period examined averaged 9.8 percent in those high-immigrant fields, compared with 5.6 percent of the other workers. This translates to some 1.8 million American-born workers in high-immigrant occupations who were unemployed.
Camarota said it is reasonable to conclude that mass immigration has played a role in essentially flat wages for millions of Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder over the past three decades.
Upending the Age Stereotype
The study also upends the stereotype that younger immigrants are entering fields with older Americans because younger Americans are not willing to do the work. Among the high-immigrant occupations, 34 percent of American-born workers are 30 or younger. That makes them younger, on average, than workers in the rest of the labor force. The study shows that 29 percent of those workers are 30 or younger.
The CIS report uses methodology employed by the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies to estimate the share of workers in each occupation who are living in the United States illegally.
Illegal immigrants hold jobs mostly in construction, cleaning, maintenance, food service, garment manufacturing, and the agriculture sector, according to the study. But they do not come close to making up a majority in any of these fields.
Illegal immigrants make up 15 percent or more of workers in just 24 occupations. Illegal immigrants make up 31 percent of plasterers and stucco masons — the highest concentration of any occupation. Following closely are graders and sorters of agricultural products, of which 30 percent of workers are illegal immigrants.
“There’s no such thing as occupations that are majority illegal immigrant,” Camarota said.
But the study suggests that, as with immigration generally, the American workers most negatively impacted are those with lower salaries and less education. Some 5.7 million people born in America work in occupations in which illegal immigrants make up at least 15 percent of the total. About two-thirds of those native-born American workers — 67 percent — had high school diplomas or less.
By contrast, American-born workers in occupations in which illegal immigrants make up less than 5 percent of the total, 75.5 percent of workers have gone beyond high school.
“You can’t say there are no losers here,” Camarota said.