Jobless Rate Higher for U.S.-Born than Immigrants

Chris Isidore, CNNMoney, April 6, 2006

NEW YORK—The unemployment rate for immigrants working in the United States fell below the rate for U.S.-born workers in 2005 for the first time since the Labor Department started tracking those numbers a decade ago.

Numbers from the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment for native-born workers fell to 5.2 percent last year from 5.5 percent in 2004. But the unemployment rate for those who were born elsewhere sank to 4.6 percent last year from 5.5 percent the year before.

The strong home-building market, which lifted construction hiring, and a rebound in travel and hospitality were seen as among the factors helping immigrant workers, since those sectors employ a lot of foreign-born workers.

The statistics suggest that when the job market is weak, foreign-born workers have a harder time finding work than those born in the United States. But during strong job markets, employers turn more to workers born in other countries.

Overall there were 21 million foreign born workers in 2005. But about 40 percent of those foreign-born workers have already become U.S. citizens. Still that leaves 12.5 million non-citizens with jobs, or about 9 percent of those who have jobs, according to the Labor Department household survey. The unemployment rate for non-citizens is 5.2 percent, which is the same as for the native born.

Who’s hiring immigrants

Construction employed the greatest number of foreign born workers in 2005—about 2.5 million immigrants, or about one out of every eight who have a job here. It also has among the highest concentrations of foreign-born workers—nearly 22 percent of the overall work force.

Retailers, with 2.1 million foreign-born employees, and restaurants and bars, with 1.7 million immigrants working for them, are the No. 2 and No. 3 sectors in terms of using immigrant workers.

The 321,000 immigrants working in households account for 39 percent of that job category, making it the category with the greatest concentration of foreign-born labor.

Despite the popular image of farm workers being the typical immigrant worker, the relatively low number of employees in the mechanized agricultural industry limits the number of jobs it provided to foreign-born workers. The BLS survey found only about 371,000 foreign-born agriculture employees in 2005, which equates to about 35 percent of that job classification. But it represents only 1.8 percent of immigrants who work here.

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The statistics show that 40 percent of the non-citizens with jobs here are Mexicans. That’s far above the No. 2 country, El Salvador, which 4.3 percent of the non-citizens with jobs here call home. India is next with 4 percent of non-citizens with jobs here.

Excluding Mexico, the rest of Latin and South America and the Caribbean provide 25 percent of non-citizens working here, while 18 percent are from Asia and the Pacific and 9 percent are from Europe.

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