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Immigration Creates Jobs

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to highlight a report just released by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, regarding the contributions of immigrants in the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The report makes official what we have known all along: Immigration and economic growth go hand-in-hand. That's right. Immigrants boost economic productivity and create jobs.

This has been true throughout our Nation's history. It's been true during boom times and during tough times. It's true yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Immigrants help our economy. Cities with a growing proportion of foreign-born workers have ``well above average economic growth.'' Immigrants expand the labor and consumer markets and fuel growth.

In my home State of Colorado, immigrant workers and business owners have added billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs. The usual suspects will cry we lie with these facts. But their prejudices will no longer prey on our uncertainties. Thanks to this report, we can all say we know better. Together we can embrace comprehensive immigration reform, help our Nation recover, and create jobs for Americans.

Immigrants and the Economy
[From the Fiscal Policy Institute]

Executive Summary

This report examines the economic role of immigrants in the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The results are clear: immigrants contribute to the economy in direct relation to their share of the population. The economy of metro areas grows in tandem with immigrant share of the labor force. And, immigrants work across the occupational spectrum, from high-paying professional jobs to low-wage service employment.

Immigrants contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. In the 25 largest metropolitan areas combined, immigrants make up 20 percent of the population and are responsible for 20 percent of economic output. Together, these metro areas comprise 42 percent of the total population of the country, 66 percent of all immigrants, and half of the country's total Gross Domestic Product. This report looks at all U.S. residents who were born in another country, regardless of immigration status or year of arrival in the United States.


An analysis of data from the past decade and a half show that in the 25 largest metropolitan areas, immigration and economic growth go hand in hand. That's easily understandable: Economic growth and labor force growth are closely connected, and immigrants are likely to move to areas where there are jobs, and not to areas where there are not.

Between 1990 and 2006, the metropolitan areas with the fastest economic growth were also the areas with the greatest increase in immigrant share of the labor force. The economies of Phoenix, Dallas, and Houston saw the fastest growth in immigrant share of labor force, while all showed well above average economic growth in these years and Phoenix experienced the fastest growth of all metro areas. By contrast, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit metro areas experienced the slowest economic growth and among the smallest increases in immigrant share of labor force.

Economic growth does not guarantee, however, that pay and other conditions of employment improve significantly for all workers. The challenge is to make sure that immigrants and U.S.-born workers struggling in low-wage jobs share in the benefits of economic growth.


The most striking finding in the analysis of 25 metro areas is how closely immigrant share of economic output matches immigrant share of the population. From the Pittsburgh metro area, where immigrants make up 3 percent of the population and 4 percent of economic output, to the Miami metro area, where immigrants represent 37 percent of all residents and 38 percent of economic output, immigrants are playing a consistently proportionate role in local economies.

The Immigrant Economic Contribution Ratio (IECR) captures this relationship, measuring the ratio of immigrant share of economic output to immigrant share of population. An IECR of 1.00 would show that immigrants contribute to the economy in exact proportion to their share of the population; above 1.00 indicates a higher contribution than share of population and below indicates lower.

In over half of the largest 25 metro areas, the IECR hovers very close to parity, measuring between 0.90 and 1.10. In only three metro areas--Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Denver--does the IECR go below 0.90; in eight metro areas it is above 1.10.

Two main factors explain this close relationship. First, immigrants are more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to be of working age. A higher share of the population in the labor force offsets cases where immigrants have lower wages.

Second, immigrants work in jobs across the economic spectrum, and are business owners as well. Although immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born workers to be in lower-wage service or blue-collar occupations, 24 percent of immigrants in the 25 metro areas work in managerial and professional occupations. Another 25 percent work in technical, sales, and administrative support occupations. In fact, in 15 of the 25 metro areas, there are more immigrants in these two higher-pay job categories taken together than there are in service and blue-collar jobs combined. And, immigrants are also entrepreneurs. Immigrants account for 22 percent of all proprietors' earnings in the 25 largest metro areas--slightly higher than their share of the population.


At the high end of the economic ladder, immigrants earn wages that are broadly comparable to their U.S.-born counterparts in the same occupations. Immigrants working in the professions--doctors, engineers, lawyers, and others--earn about the same as U.S.-born professionals in almost all metro areas. The same is true for registered nurses, pharmacists, and health therapists, and for technicians.

At the low-end of the labor market, wages can also be roughly similar for foreign- and U.S.-born workers. However, in service occupations, most workers have a hard time making ends meet. Both U.S.- and foreign-born workers earn well below the median in almost every service occupation examined in this report--including guards, cleaning, and building services; food preparation; and dental, health, and nursing aides.

The clear challenge for service jobs is to raise pay for all workers, U.S.- and foreign-born alike.

Some blue-collar workers are in a similar position, with both immigrants and U.S-born workers showing low annual earnings. In certain blue-collar occupations, however, immigrant workers earn considerably less than their U.S.-born counterparts. In the 25 metro areas combined, for example, the median earnings for U.S.-born workers in construction trades is $45,000, while the median for immigrants is just $27,000. Although wages in blue-collar jobs have eroded in recent decades, in the early years of the post-World War II period several blue-collar occupations paid workers, primarily men without college degrees, family-sustaining wages. The discrepancy today between U.S.- and foreign-born earnings in these occupations thus presents a challenge: to raise all workers to the standard that has been set by some, as a means to improve pay for low-wage workers in the occupation and to protect higher-wage earners.

Unions have played an important role in raising pay in many areas, including some blue-collar jobs. By contrast, the relatively low unionization rate in service jobs helps explain the consistently low pay. Unions continue to play an important role in raising wages and equalizing differences in pay for all workers, documented or otherwise. Although undocumented immigrants are legally permitted to join unions, in practice unscrupulous employers have frequently found ways to take advantage of the status of undocumented workers to thwart their efforts.

In the 25 largest metro areas, the average unionization rate is lower for immigrants than for U.S.-born workers--10 percent compared to 14 percent. With immigrants playing a major role in the labor force, they are also playing a significant role in unions, making up 20 percent of all union members in the 25 largest metro areas.

A closer look at the five largest metro areas in the East--New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, and Miami--reveals that the same experience applies to them. Economic growth and immigration generally go hand in hand; immigrants work in all occupations; those in managerial, professional, and technical occupations fare relatively well, those in service and blue-collar jobs less so. Atlanta experienced the biggest growth in immigrant share of the labor force and the fastest growth in its overall economy.


The current recession has pushed up unemployment, prompting some to feel that sharp restrictions on immigration would help the economy. But, creating a climate that is hostile to immigrants would risk damaging a significant part of the country's economic fabric. Immigrants are an important part of the economies of the 25 largest metro areas, working in jobs up and down the economic ladder. Immigration is highly responsive to demand--the immigrant share of the labor force increases with economic growth. Immigrants are part of the same economy as other workers, getting paid well in jobs at the top of the ladder and struggling in jobs in the economy's lower rungs.

While the immigrant labor force brings many benefits to the U.S. economy, it also presents political, economic and social challenges. This is especially true in the context of an extremely polarized economy, relatively low unionization rates, weak enforcement of labor standards, and a broken immigration system. Immigration has always been an important part of America's history, and it will continue to be a part of our future. Addressing these complex problems would be a better path for policymakers than wishing away immigration. This report presents an empirical look at the role of immigrants in the U.S. economy, in the hopes of informing a constructive public debate that will result in much-needed policy reform.

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