Posted on December 22, 2022

Immigrant Workers in November 2022 Up 1.9 Million Over 2019

Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, December 21, 2022

A good deal of media coverage and commentary has argued that immigration needs to be increased because arrivals slowed during Covid-19 and immigrant workers are now “missing” from the labor market, creating a “shortfall” for the economy. But an analysis of the government data from November of this year shows that there are actually 1.9 million more legal and illegal immigrants working than before the pandemic. (Immigrants are also referred to as the “foreign-born” in government data.)

To the extent workers are “missing”, it is due to the dramatic decline in the labor force participation rate — the share working or looking for work — of the U.S.-born in recent decades as the immigrant population has grown. This decline deprives the economy of workers and contributes to a host of social problems. If the labor force participation rate returned to where it was as recently as 2000, there would be millions more U.S.-born workers in the labor force.

Among the findings:

  • In November 2022, there were 29.6 million immigrants (legal and illegal together) working in the United States — 1.9 million more than in November 2019, before the pandemic.
  • The 29.6 million immigrant workers in November of this year was one million above the long-term trend in the pre-Covid growth rate of immigrant workers — immigrant workers are not “missing”.
  • In contrast to immigrants, there were 2.1 million fewer U.S.-born Americans working in November 2022 than in November 2019, before the pandemic.
  • There has been a long-term decline in the labor force participation rate — the share of the working-age (16-64) working or looking for work — among U.S.-born Americans, primarily those without a bachelor’s degree. These individuals do not show up as unemployed because they have not looked for work in the last four weeks.
  • In November of this year, there were 44.9 million working-age U.S.-born Americans not in the labor force — nearly 10 million more than in 2000.
  • The U.S.-born working-age population has increased in size since 2000, but if their labor force participation rate was what it was in 2000, there would be 6.5 million more Americans in the labor force.

The overall foreign-born:

  • The overall legal and illegal immigrant or foreign-born population — both workers and non-workers — was 48.4 million in November of this year, a new record high in American history and 3.4 million more than in January 2021 when President Biden took office.
  • Our analysis of the monthly data in prior months indicates that about 60 percent or roughly two million of the 3.4 million increase in the overall immigrant population since January 2021 is due to illegal immigration.
  • Immigrants are now 14.7 percent of the total U.S. population, which matches their share in 1910, and is just slightly below the all-time high reached in 1890 of 14.8 percent.
  • The enormous number of immigrants already in the country matters because those calling for more immigration on behalf of employers seem unaware of the current scale of immigration and its impact on American society.
  • Adding even more people to the country has important implications for the nation’s schools, healthcare system, infrastructure, and environmental conservation goals. Perhaps most important, there is the question of whether the county can assimilate a record number of i mmigrants.