Last week’s jobs report gave us some signs that, three years into the pandemic, the red-hot labor market is finally starting to cool off. One factor contributing to the persistent labor shortage was a drop in the number of immigrants, who have typically accounted for a major share of labor force growth.

But the flow of immigrants into the U.S. has ramped up over the past year or so, as cross-border restrictions have lifted and as U.S. immigration officials have started to work their way through visa application backlogs.

A few moments during the pandemic have made the link between immigration and the labor market crystal clear, said Dany Bahar with the Brookings Institution.

The first came early on when lots of frontline jobs were held by immigrant workers. “I’m talking here about daycare workers and nurses and doctors but also people packing groceries and making deliveries,” Bahar said.

When the economy started to open back up, he said there was a huge demand for workers in industries that typically rely on immigration, like service, hospitality and child care. But the pool of immigrant workers was suddenly a lot smaller.

The number of legal immigrants coming to the U.S. was cut in half between 2019 and 2020, according to Julia Gelatt with the Migration Policy Institute.


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