Foreign-Born Americans Make America’s Workforce Great

Trump's disdain for immigrants doesn't really make all that much sense when you break down the data

Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Oct 07, 2016 at 5:46 PM ET

In an election season where far too much airtime has been given to people questioning the desirability of America’s foreign-born workers, citizens and even residents, it’s good to have actual data to separate facts from the racist rhetoric.

Employment stats made available on Friday morning show that there is a record number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. right now, a stat that would quite likely get those Trump supporters who like to pore over hard data all fired up. The term “foreign-born” does not distinguish between documented and undocumented immigrants or refugees, merely distinguishing between Americans born here and those born in other countries and counting the ones who are working. Not that it really seems to matter to some: surveys from Pew Research Center have shown that nearly 70 percent of Trump supporters believe that “immigrants are a burden on the country,” (22 percent more likely than non-supporters to believe such a blanket statement) without any further qualifications. Trump himself is, of course, looking to reduce the rates of legal immigration.

In the past, Trump has stated that immigrants are “abusing our system,” by choosing not to work, but unemployment data shows that foreign-born Americans (on the whole) are employed at higher rates than native-born Americans. While the labor force participation rate for native born Americans was 62.3 percent last month, the foreign-born population had pulled ahead at 65.4 percent. Which quite literally means that the undocumented immigrants Trump and his followers so vehemently oppose are actually helping to prop up the country’s population of unemployed, American-born Americans. Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes — at higher rates than American-born 1%-ers and likely more than the potentially tax-evading candidate himself — but they are often unable to benefit from the state assistance programs they are helping to fund with those taxes.

Two-thirds of Trump’s wives have been immigrants, but they clearly don’t fall into the categories of immigrants he is staunchly opposed to: namely Muslim immigrants and undocumented immigrants from South and Latin America. Last year, Trump went full-on South Park when he told a crowd that Mexicans were “taking our jobs,” which now actually kind of seems like one of the more rational, politically correct things to come out of his mouth, given his talk about “criminals and rapists.”

The reality, however, is that foreign-born Americans typically fill different roles within the labor force than workers born in America. The highest percentage of foreign-born workers hold jobs in the service field, working in healthcare, food service, building maintenance, and personal care, serving (rather than burdening) the U.S. population.

While data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically categorize the religious beliefs of foreign-born Americas (or those born in this country, for that matter), it does show that the highest percentage of foreign-born American workers are Hispanic — they account for almost half of the entire foreign-born labor force. But since the data doesn’t account for the immigration status of foreign-born workers, there’s only so much that can be said in regard to how many of these employed, Hispanic, foreign-born Americans are undocumented. Regardless of legal status, it has been found that wage theft is a common fate for Mexican immigrants, and on the whole, Hispanic foreign-born full-time wage and salary workers only earned 80.7 of what their native-born counterparts made. Across all races included in the data, foreign-born Hispanics are the only group that makes less per week than their native-born counterparts.