The share of foreign-born workers in the U.S. labor force reached a record high last year, per new data from the Labor Department.

Why it matters: With more Americans aging out of the workforce than entering into it — and at a time of labor shortages — immigrants are playing an increasingly crucial role in the labor market.

State of play: The share of foreign-born people in the workforce has been steadily rising for decades, but dipped during the pandemic — making last year’s uptick look a bit more striking than it is, said Abraham Mosisa, a senior economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Still, this is a trend that isn’t going anywhere. The U.S. labor force participation rate of native born men has been consistently decreasing, he pointed out. And the rate for women has stagnated.
  • The number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. increased to 29.8 million in 2022, from 27.9 million the previous year — a jump of about 6%.
  • The number of native-born workers went from 133.2 million to 134.5 million — up barely 1%.
  • One key factor is that a bigger share of the immigrant population is of working age (18-64), at 77%, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI). That compares with about 59% of the native-born population.

Meanwhile: The relative size of the immigrant population has stayed flat over the past two decades — comprising 13.6% of the total U.S. population in 2021, according to the most recently available data from MPI — just below where it was before the pandemic.

Zoom in: Foreign-born workers tend to take different jobs than the native-born (see the chart below), and they typically earn less money.

  • In 2022, median weekly earnings for foreign-born full-time workers was $945, or 87% of their native-born counterparts.


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