This paper provides comprehensive estimates on immigrant (foreign-born) workers in the United States, employed in “essential critical infrastructure” categories, as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (DHS 2020). It finds that immigrants in the labor force and age 16 and over, work at disproportionate rates in “essential critical infrastructure” jobs.

By Donald Kerwin, Mike Nicholson, Daniela Alulema, and Robert Warren

In particular, 69 percent of all immigrants in the labor force and 74 percent of undocumented workers are essential infrastructure workers, compared to 65 percent of the native-born labor force.

The contributions of immigrants to the US labor force and economy have been well-documented. The labor force participation rates of the foreign-born, have long exceeded those of the native-born (BLS 2019).  Immigrants fill gaps in the US economy, improve labor market efficiency, and support the aging US population (Sherman et al. 2019).  Immigration has also “brought to the United States an inordinate share of the world’s best talent which has been a windfall in a global economy where heavy advantages accrue to the most innovative companies and countries” (CFR 2009).

This paper shows that immigrants, particularly the undocumented, work at high rates in essential critical infrastructure sectors.  In the great majority of US states, the foreign-born participate in the essential workforce at higher rates than the native-born, and the foreign-born share of essential workers exceeds the share of all foreign-born workers in the state (Table 1 in appendix).  In short, the paper shows that immigrants are working – often at great risk to their health and lives – to keep Americans safe, healthy, fed, and poised for economic recovery.

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