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Foreign-born Workers in 2020

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June 21, 2021

There were 27.3 million foreign-born workers in the 161 million strong US labor force in 2020, down from 27.5 million in the 164 million strong labor force in 2019. Foreign-born workers were 17 percent of all US workers in 2020, but they accounted for almost 40 percent of the decline in the US workforce between 2019 and 2020.

The foreign-born US labor force shrank in 2020

The unemployment rate of foreign-born workers was lower than the rate for US-born workers in 2019, 3.1 versus 3.8 percent for US-born workers, but higher in 2020, 9.2 versus 7.8 percent for US-born workers. A higher share of foreign-born workers lost jobs in 2020.

A higher share of foreign-born workers lost jobs in 2020 (percentage decline in employment between Feb 2020 and Jan 2021)

Foreign-born men have higher labor force participation rates than US-born men, 77 percent compared to 66 percent in 2020. Foreign-born women have a lower participation rate, 53 percent compared to 57 percent for US-born women. Foreign-born workers are mostly male, 57 percent compared to 52 percent of US-born workers, and more likely to be in the 25-54 age group, 73 percent compared to 62 percent for US-born workers.

Over 19 percent of foreign-born workers 25 and older did not complete high school in 2020, compared with four percent of US born workers. About 40 percent of foreign-born adult workers, and 44 percent of US born adult workers, had college degrees in 2020.

Foreign-born workers were concentrated in particular occupations, including agriculture, construction, and maintenance occupations that have a higher share of foreign-born than US-born workers. Two percent of foreign-born men, compared to 0.8 percent of US-born men, were in farming. Similarly, 15 percent of foreign-born men, compared to eight percent of US-born men, were in construction occupations. Among women, nine percent of foreign-born women, compared to two percent of US-born women, were in cleaning and maintenance occupations.

The median earnings of foreign-born workers were 12 percent lower than the median earnings of US-born workers, $885 a week compared to $1,000 in 2020. The gap in earnings was larger for foreign-born men than for foreign-born women, who earned 88 percent as much as US-born women, $798 versus $903. Similarly, the earnings gap was larger for older workers: foreign-born workers 55 to 64 earned $869, which was 76 percent of the $1,137 of US-born workers in the same age group. Foreign-born workers aged 25-34 earned $885 a week, which was 98 percent of the $907 of similar US-born workers.

Foreign-born workers earn less than US-born workers, but the earnings gap is narrowing

The gap between the earnings of foreign-born and US-born reverses as education rises. Foreign-born workers with less than a high-school education earned an average $601 a week in 2020, compared to $655 for similar US-born workers. However, foreign-born workers with college degrees earned an average $1,492 a week, more than the $1,409 of similar US-born workers.

Foreign-born workers with at least BS degrees earned more than US-born workers with at least BS degrees

Almost half of foreign-born workers were Hispanic and a quarter were Asian in 2020. Hispanics were 12 percent and Asians were two percent of US-born workers in 2020.

There were 13 million foreign-born Hispanic workers in 2020, and 16 million US-born Hispanic workers. Foreign-born Hispanic workers with less than a high school education were much more likely to be in the labor force than similar US-born Hispanics: 56 percent of foreign-born Hispanics without high school diplomas were in the labor force in 2020, compared to 36 percent of US-born Hispanics.

BLS. 2021. Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-born Workers Summary.

FRED. Foreign-born population and employment data.

Employment status of the foreign-born and native-born populations by selected characteristics, 2019-2020 annual averages
Characteristic 2019 2020
Civilian noninstitutional population Civilian labor force Civilian noninstitutional population Civilian labor force
Total Participation rate Employed Unemployed Total Participation rate Employed Unemployed
Number Unemployment rate Number Unemployment rate
TOTAL
Total, 16 years and over 259,175 163,539 63.1 157,538 6,001 3.7 260,329 160,742 61.7 147,795 12,947 8.1
  Men 125,353 86,687 69.2 83,460 3,227 3.7 125,922 85,204 67.7 78,560 6,644 7.8
  Women 133,822 76,852 57.4 74,078 2,774 3.6 134,407 75,538 56.2 69,234 6,304 8.3
FOREIGN BORN
Total, 16 years and over 42,990 28,390 66.0 27,502 888 3.1 42,361 27,316 64.5 24,809 2,507 9.2
  Men 20,814 16,234 78.0 15,791 443 2.7 20,420 15,652 76.6 14,401 1,250 8.0
  Women 22,176 12,156 54.8 11,711 446 3.7 21,941 11,664 53.2 10,407 1,257 10.8
Age
16 to 24 years 3,330 1,735 52.1 1,619 116 6.7 3,149 1,604 50.9 1,373 231 14.4
25 to 34 years 7,665 5,917 77.2 5,726 191 3.2 7,208 5,470 75.9 4,966 504 9.2
35 to 44 years 9,361 7,459 79.7 7,273 187 2.5 9,103 7,150 78.5 6,599 551 7.7
45 to 54 years 8,878 7,219 81.3 7,018 201 2.8 8,793 6,993 79.5 6,367 626 8.9
55 to 64 years 6,699 4,585 68.5 4,450 135 3.0 6,831 4,637 67.9 4,191 446 9.6
65 years and over 7,057 1,475 20.9 1,416 59 4.0 7,278 1,461 20.1 1,312 149 10.2
Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicityj (1)
White non-Hispanic or Latino 7,710 4,651 60.3 4,515 136 2.9 7,377 4,420 59.9 4,087 333 7.5
Black non-Hispanic or Latino 3,837 2,716 70.8 2,606 110 4.1 3,979 2,757 69.3 2,463 294 10.7
Asian non-Hispanic or Latino 11,180 7,187 64.3 7,013 174 2.4 10,966 6,848 62.4 6,252 595 8.7
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity 19,753 13,506 68.4 13,046 460 3.4 19,569 12,978 66.3 11,723 1,255 9.7
Educational attainment
Total, 25 years and over 39,660 26,655 67.2 25,883 773 2.9 39,212 25,712 65.6 23,436 2,276 8.9
  Less than a high school diploma 9,494 5,432 57.2 5,217 214 3.9 8,762 4,886 55.8 4,328 558 11.4
  High school graduates, no collegej (2) 9,983 6,632 66.4 6,454 178 2.7 10,023 6,302 62.9 5,617 685 10.9
  Some college or associate degree 6,233 4,312 69.2 4,196 116 2.7 6,192 4,153 67.1 3,767 386 9.3
  Bachelor's degree and higherj (3) 13,950 10,280 73.7 10,015 264 2.6 14,235 10,371 72.9 9,723 648 6.2
NATIVE BORN
Total, 16 years and over 216,185 135,148 62.5 130,036 5,112 3.8 217,968 133,427 61.2 122,986 10,441 7.8
  Men 104,540 70,453 67.4 67,669 2,784 4.0 105,502 69,552 65.9 64,159 5,393 7.8
  Women 111,645 64,696 57.9 62,367 2,328 3.6 112,466 63,874 56.8 58,827 5,047 7.9
Age
16 to 24 years 34,418 19,358 56.2 17,703 1,654 8.5 34,336 18,603 54.2 15,819 2,784 15.0
25 to 34 years 37,211 31,274 84.0 30,081 1,193 3.8 37,636 31,036 82.5 28,460 2,576 8.3
35 to 44 years 31,599 26,598 84.2 25,854 743 2.8 32,227 26,833 83.3 25,208 1,625 6.1
45 to 54 years 31,566 25,713 81.5 25,024 689 2.7 31,078 25,148 80.9 23,731 1,416 5.6
55 to 64 years 35,542 23,018 64.8 22,443 575 2.5 35,360 22,656 64.1 21,262 1,393 6.1
65 years and over 45,848 9,188 20.0 8,931 257 2.8 47,330 9,152 19.3 8,506 646 7.1
Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicityj (1)
White non-Hispanic or Latino 154,457 96,132 62.2 93,210 2,922 3.0 154,711 94,284 60.9 88,161 6,123 6.5
Black non-Hispanic or Latino 27,105 16,566 61.1 15,497 1,069 6.5 27,296 16,089 58.9 14,237 1,851 11.5
Asian non-Hispanic or Latino 4,720 2,973 63.0 2,874 99 3.3 5,021 3,153 62.8 2,889 264 8.4
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity 23,754 15,547 65.4 14,759 788 5.1 24,614 15,992 65.0 14,229 1,763 11.0
Educational attainment
Total, 25 years and over 181,767 115,791 63.7 112,333 3,458 3.0 183,632 114,824 62.5 107,167 7,656 6.7
  Less than a high school diploma 12,132 4,544 37.5 4,224 320 7.0 11,138 4,043 36.3 3,561 483 11.9
  High school graduates, no collegej (2) 52,476 29,530 56.3 28,383 1,146 3.9 52,098 28,440 54.6 25,989 2,450 8.6
  Some college or associate degree 51,280 33,108 64.6 32,086 1,022 3.1 51,135 32,248 63.1 29,803 2,446 7.6
  Bachelor's degree and higherj (3) 65,878 48,609 73.8 47,640 969 2.0 69,260 50,092 72.3 47,815 2,277 4.5
Footnotes
1 Data for race/ethnicity groups do not sum to totals because data are not presented for all races.
2 Includes persons with a high school diploma or equivalent.
3 Includes persons with bachelor's, master's, professional, and doctoral degrees.
NOTE: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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