Inland Area More Dependent on Immigrant Labor, Study Says

David Olson, Press-Enterprise (San Bernardino), November 29, 2009

The Inland area is more dependent on immigrant labor than most other large U.S. urban areas, a new study concludes.

The report, by the Latham, N.Y.-based Fiscal Policy Institute, also revealed that although foreign-born workers are more likely to be concentrated in low-paying occupations than native-born people, they represent an increasing share of high-earning, highly skilled professionals, such as nurses and engineers.

The study found that 22 percent of people living in Riverside and San Bernardino counties between 2005 and 2007 were foreign-born, but they comprised 29 percent of civilian workers at least 16 years old.

The difference was less pronounced in most of the other regions the study analyzed. In the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 24 percent of the labor force and 20 percent of the population was born abroad.

Immigrants are disproportionately represented in the work force because they are more likely to be of working age than native-born counterparts, said the principal author of the report, David Dyssegaard Kallick.

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The study released Sunday found foreign-born people had a big presence in occupations that in the past were not associated with immigrants. In the Inland area, a third of nurses, pharmacists and health therapists were immigrants, as were more than 18 percent of executives and managers.

The study also looked at economic output, which it defined as the wages of workers and the earnings of businesses. Immigrants had a bigger share of the economic output–25 percent–of the Inland area than they did in most other metropolitan areas.

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‘LEFT UNFILLED’

During the time when the study’s data was collected, immigrants were vital in ensuring the Inland area’s rapid growth, said Paul Herrera, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Economic Development Agency.

“Traditionally when unemployment is low, they are very beneficial,” he said. “They come in and pick up jobs that would be left unfilled.”

With Inland unemployment now at 14.6 percent, immigrants’ impact is uncertain, especially because it’s unclear how many have left the Inland area to seek work elsewhere, he said.

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Although some immigrants are well-educated, a much larger number–especially illegal immigrants–have a low level of schooling and skills, he [Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies] said.

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IMMIGRANT WORKERS

Sidebar: Immigrant Workers

17.8%–Immigrant share of Riverside and San Bernardino counties’ labor force, 1990

29.1%–Immigrant share of Inland labor force, 2005-07

18.2–Percent of Inland executives, administrators and managers who were foreign-born, 2005-07

25.0–Percent of Inland doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, architects and others in “professional specialties” who were foreign-born

32.7–Percent of Inland nurses, pharmacists and health therapists who were foreign-born

39.1–Percent of Inland food-preparation workers who were foreign-born

55.3–Percent of Inland welders, electrical-equipment assemblers and manufacturing sorters who were foreign-born

60.6–Percent of Inland machine operators who were foreign-born

70.2–Percent of Inland farmworkers who were foreign-born

[Editor’s Note: “Contribution of Immigrant Workers to the Country’s 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas,” by the Fiscal Policy Institute, is available here.]

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