Posted on August 28, 2018

There Are No Jobs Americans Won’t Do

Steven A. Camarota, Jason Richwine, and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, August 26, 2018

If immigrants “do jobs that Americans won’t do”, we should be able to identify occupations in which the workers are nearly all foreign-born. However, among the 474 separate occupations defined by the Department of Commerce, we find only a handful of majority-immigrant occupations, and none completely dominated by immigrants (legal or illegal). Furthermore, in none of the 474 occupations do illegal immigrants constitute a majority of workers.

Notable findings:

  • Of the 474 civilian occupations, only six are majority immigrant (legal and illegal). These six occupations account for 1 percent of the total U.S. workforce. Moreover, native-born Americans still comprise 46 percent of workers in these occupations.
  • There are no occupations in the United States in which a majority of workers are illegal immigrants.
  • Illegal immigrants work mostly in construction, cleaning, maintenance, food service, garment manufacturing, and agricultural occupations. However, the majority of workers even in these areas are either native-born or legal immigrants.
  • Only 4 percent of illegal immigrants and 2 percent of all immigrants do farm work. Immigrants (legal and illegal) do make up a large share of agricultural workers — accounting for half or more of some types of farm laborers — but all agricultural workers together constitute less than 1 percent of the American work force.
  • Many occupations often thought to be worked overwhelmingly by immigrants (legal and illegal) are in fact majority native-born:
    • Maids and housekeepers: 51 percent native-born
    • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 54 percent native-born
    • Butchers and meat processors: 64 percent native-born
    • Grounds maintenance workers: 66 percent native-born
    • Construction laborers: 65 percent native-born
    • Janitors: 73 percent native-born
  • There are 65 occupations in which 25 percent or more of the workers are immigrants (legal and illegal). In these high-immigrant occupations, there are still 16.5 million natives — accounting for one out of eight natives in the labor force.
  • High-immigrant occupations (25 percent or more immigrant) are primarily, but not exclusively, lower-wage jobs that require relatively little formal education.
  • In high-immigrant occupations, 54 percent of the natives in those occupations have no education beyond high school, compared to 30 percent of the rest of the labor force.
  • Natives tend to have high unemployment in high-immigrant occupations, averaging 9.8 percent during the 2012-2016 period, compared to 5.6 percent in the rest of the labor force. There were a total of 1.8 million unemployed native-born Americans in high-immigrant occupations.
  • The stereotype that native-born workers in high-immigrant occupations are mostly older, with few young natives willing to do such work, is largely inaccurate. In fact, 34 percent of natives in high-immigrant occupations are age 30 or younger, compared to 29 percent of natives in the rest of labor force.
  • Not all high-immigrant occupations are lower-skilled. For example, 38 percent of software engineers are immigrants, as are 28 percent of physicians.
  • A number of politically influential groups face very little job competition from immigrants (legal and illegal). For example, only 7 percent of lawyers and judges and 7 percent of farmers and ranchers are immigrants, as are at most 9 percent of English-language reporters and correspondents.1

Full Results


[Editor’s Note: The Excel file with information on all occupations is available here.]


{snip} As our results indicate, at the most detailed level of analysis possible, there are very few occupations that are majority immigrant — just six out of 474 — and 46 percent of workers even in these high-immigrant occupations are native-born. Moreover, high-immigrant occupations employ less than 1 percent of all native workers and 3 percent of all immigrant workers.2 Therefore, speaking of “jobs Americans won’t do” gives the false impression that the labor market is strictly segmented between immigrant and native jobs.

Of course, immigrants are much more concentrated in some occupations than in others, but a large number of native-born Americans still work in high-immigrant occupations. There are nearly 900,000 U.S.-born maids and housekeepers, for example, and 1.3 million native-born construction laborers. Clearly, natives are willing to do these jobs — in fact, they are doing them. Assertions by employers that it is impossible to hire Americans should therefore be treated skeptically. Given the large number of native-born Americans who already do “immigrant jobs”, and given the 42 million working-age natives who are not currently in the labor force, it seems likely that increasing wages and benefits, improving working conditions, and changing recruitment practices could go a long way toward securing needed workers even in the absence of immigration.3

Illegal Immigrants. Illegal immigrants tend to be even more associated with the “jobs Americans won’t do” mantra. And yet there are just 24 occupations out of 474 in which illegal immigrants comprise at least 15 percent of workers. There are 5.7 million natives in these high-illegal-immigrant occupations, 67 percent of whom have no education beyond high school. But in occupations that are made up of 5 percent or less illegal immigrants, 75.5 percent of natives have education beyond high school.4 This suggests that the impact of illegal immigration on wages and employment opportunities will be felt most by less-educated natives. More-educated natives will tend to avoid competition with illegal immigrants.

Agricultural Work. The tendency for immigrants to work in agriculture is often overestimated. In fact, we find that only 4 percent of illegal immigrants and 2 percent of all immigrants work on farms.5 {snip}


Identifying Illegal Immigrants. Illegal immigrants are present in Census data, but never explicitly identified by the Bureau. To determine which respondents are most likely to be illegal, CIS follows a methodology similar to those used by the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies.9 We start by eliminating immigrant respondents who are almost certainly not illegal — for example, spouses of natural-born citizens; veterans; people who receive direct welfare payments (except Medicaid for women who gave birth within the past year and for residents of certain states); people who have government jobs; Cubans (because of special rules for that country); immigrants who arrived before 1980 (because the 1986 amnesty should have already covered them); people in certain occupations requiring licensing, screening, or a government background check (e.g. doctors, pharmacists, and law enforcement); and people likely to be on student visas. The remaining candidates are weighted to replicate known characteristics of the illegal population (size, age, gender, country of origin, and state of residence) as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.10 The resulting illegal population closely approximates other published estimates.


[Editor’s Note: The original story includes the Footnotes.]