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Low-Skilled Labor

Immigration - Low-Skilled Labor

Much like their high-skilled counterparts, low-skilled immigrant workers are also critical to the American economy. The U.S. economy is facing a demographic crisis. Roughly 77 million Baby Boomers (one-quarter of the U.S. population) are now starting to reach retirement age. This graying of America over the next two decades will have a profound economic and workforce impacts, and immigrants will play a critical role in replenishing and sustaining the U.S. labor force.

In a report by the Partnership for a New Economy, A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle: Demographic Change and Why Immigrants are Needed to Fill America’s Less-Skilled Labor Gap (PDF), it lays out the scenario likely to create a low-skilled worker shortage. Key findings of the report include:
  • America has a declining number of young people willing and able to work less-skilled jobs. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of less-skilled, young, U.S.-born Americans (aged 25-44) declined by almost 12.3 million.
  • The decline in the less-skilled, young population has been particularly pronounced among women. Almost two thirds of the decline in the number of young, less-skilled, U.S.-born individuals can be explained by a decrease in the number of less-skilled women in America.
  • The demand for less-skilled workers is strong and growing. According to the U.S. Census, between 1990 and 2010, the number of jobs for less-skilled workers in the U.S. economy remained constant at 45.7 million. And in the coming years, less-skilled employment is expected to grow: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 63 percent of the new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 will require a high school degree or less.
  • Second generation immigrants have helped offset some of these labor gaps. Between 1995 and 2010, while the number of less-skilled, young, American-born individuals overall declined, the number of second-generation immigrants in that category grew by more than 680,000.
  • We do not admit a sufficient number of immigrants to offset the looming workforce deficit of less-skilled workers. Between 1990 and 2010, when the number of young, U.S.-born, less-skilled individuals declined by almost 12.3 million, only 3.9 million young immigrants arrived in the country to replace them.
These demographic realities mean that any reform of the U.S. immigration system needs to address America’s very real need to recruit additional less-skilled workers. However, a 2014 NumbersUSA poll (PDF) showed that only 10% of likely voters believe there is a shortage of workers for construction and service jobs, and that 73% think “there are plenty of less-educated Americans to do the jobs.” If there is a shortage of ready workers, 74% think that “businesses should be required to recruit from American groups with high unemployment.” Only 13% said “businesses should be allowed to bring in new immigrant workers instead.” This type of public opinion is what has put lawmakers in a bind on lower-skilled worker reforms.

Below are some helpful links to resources where you can learn more about immigration and the low-skilled workforce:

Chamberpedia Home | Government Relations and Public Policy | Immigration | Low-Skilled Labor

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