How the Jobs That Immigrants Do Are Changing

Immigration was one of the most contentious issues in the 2016 presidential campaign. President-elect Trump pledged both to deport unauthorized immigrants and to restrict future immigration in order to “put American workers first.” And these promises resonated: support for Trump was stronger in areas with fewer immigrants but larger recent increases in the local immigrant population, and Trump did best among voters who said immigration was their most important issue.

Economists generally find that immigrants have a positive effect on the economy in aggregate and even on the wages and job prospects for most native-born workers. But there’s fierce disagreement about how much native-born workers in similar jobs and with similar skills are hurt by competition with immigrants, particularly in economic downturns. In this blogpost we make no attempt to resolve these complex debates. Instead, we look at the jobs that immigrants do today, with a particular focus on recent immigrants, as a guide to which occupations, workers, employers, and consumers might be most affected — for better or for worse — by future changes to immigration policy.

To identify these jobs, we used the Census’s American Community Survey (ACS), which asks respondents about their employment status, occupation, birthplace, and citizenship, among many other topics. We analyzed the data for all immigrants in the U.S. and then focused on those who have been in the country less than five years. The punchline is that compared with earlier immigrants, recent immigrants are more educated, more likely to come from Asia rather than Latin America, and less likely to work in occupations where they might compete directly with the native-born workers who were most supportive of Trump.

What Are the Occupations With the Most Immigrants

Among broad job sectors, immigrants make up the highest share of farming, forestry, and fishing occupations, accounting for 46% of those who work in those jobs, compared with 17% of the economy overall. Immigrants also constitute 35% of buildings and grounds cleaning and maintenance workers and 28% of construction workers. Therefore, the sectors with the highest share of immigrants tend to be goods-related rather than services-related, though the share of production (that is, manufacturing) jobs held by immigrants is a bit lower at 23%.

Immigrants account for the smallest share of workers in military-specific occupations, protective service jobs (like police and firefighters), legal occupations, and community and social services jobs.

While immigrants do not constitute the majority of workers in any of the broad job sectors, they are the majority in eight specific occupations and account for more than 60% of the workers in three: agricultural product graders and sorters, personal appearance workers (such as manicurists), and plasterers and stucco masons.

All ten of the occupations in which immigrants make up the largest share require relatively little education. These occupations differ, however, in whether they’re held by men or women. Personal appearance…

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