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Albany Legal Blog

Labor Day and Immigrant Workers

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2013 | Immigration


Just as Memorial Day was an opportunity to remember those men and women who have died in our nation’s service (including non-citizens who have a long and proud tradition of serving in the U.S. military), Labor Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to American workers.  But is it really just “American” workers that we should be paying tribute to?

Here’s some data to consider about immigrant workers (those here lawfully or otherwise), courtesy of the Migration Policy Institute:

• The number of immigrant workers in the United States grew by 44.7 percent between 2000 and 2011.

• In 2011, foreign born workers represented 16.6 percent of the United States’ civilian-employed workforce.

• Immigrants accounted for an astounding 50.5 percent of civilian employed workers with no high school degree, and for 15.6 percent of all college-educated workers.

• The top three industries of immigrant workers in the United States were (a) educational services, and health care and social assistance; (b) arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services; and (c) professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services.

• The top three occupations of immigrant workers in the United States were (a)  management, business, science, and arts occupations; (b) service occupations; and (c) sales and office occupations.

• Here’s a sad statistic.  Brain waste affected over a million college-educated immigrants in the United States.  Specifically, in 2010, there were 1,565,742 college-educated immigrants who were either unemployed or working in unskilled jobs such as dishwashers, security guards, and housemaids.  This represents 22.5 percent of the college-educated immigrant labor force in the United States. Among native-born college-educated persons, 6,126,303 (or 16.5 percent) were underutilized.  There’s plenty more data where this comes from, including data for your own state.

The United States and its economy benefits immensely from the valuable skills and talents provided by the likes of foreign-born high-skilled scientists and engineers and medical doctors.  But we also – including my own State of New York – heavily rely on immigrants workers at differing skill levels in a variety of industries, many of which are experiencing labor shortages (e.g., agriculture, food processing, construction, or eldercare).  As a result, the role of immigrant workers is vital.

Recall the following study published by the President’s National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, Office of Management and Budget, and the Council of Economic Advisers, entitled “The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System”.  This report details the range of benefits to the U.S. economy that would be realized from passage of CIR.  More importantly, it also discusses the high cost of inaction.

There was also a study published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (“ITEP”) that concluded that undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States pay billions of dollars in taxes every year to state and local governments.  If they earned a legal status, they would apparently pay even more. According to ITEP, “undocumented immigrants paid an estimated total of $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010.”  Moreover, “allowing undocumented immigrants to work in the United States legally would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2 billion a year.” If CIR were to occur, the increase state and local taxes in New York is estimated to be $224,126,000!

Despite this, many immigrant workers do not enjoy all the benefits that the United States offers “American” worker.  Because of their undocumented status, many of those who are here unlawfully have no option other than to work in the underground economy.  Worse yet, they are frequently subjected to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.  That’s not at all a good reflection of what the United States is all about.

In 1894, Labor Day came to be, and with it came paid holidays, 40-hour workweeks and better working conditions for “American” workers.  As we celebrate Labor Day in our backyards, perhaps barbequing with your families, let us also not forget the contributions of all the immigrant workers in our workforce.