Foreign-born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics Summary

For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Thursday, May 18, 2017                         USDL-17-0618

Technical information: (202) 691-6378  *  cpsinfo@bls.gov  *  www.bls.gov/cps
Media contact:         (202) 691-5902  *  PressOffice@bls.gov


                      FOREIGN-BORN WORKERS: LABOR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS -- 2016


The unemployment rate for foreign-born persons in the United States was 4.3 percent in 2016, 
down from 4.9 percent in 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The jobless 
rate of native-born persons fell to 5.0 percent in 2016 from 5.4 percent in the prior year. 

Data on nativity are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly 
sample survey of approximately 60,000 households. The foreign born are persons who reside in 
the United States but who were born outside the country or one of its outlying areas to parents 
who were not U.S. citizens. The foreign born include legally-admitted immigrants, refugees, 
temporary residents such as students and temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants. The 
survey data, however, do not separately identify the numbers of persons in these categories. 
For further information about the survey, see the Technical Note in this news release.

Highlights from the 2016 data:

  --In 2016, there were 27.0 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, 
    comprising 16.9 percent of the total. (See table 1.)

  --Hispanics accounted for 48.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force in 2016, 
    and Asians accounted for 25.0 percent. (See table 1.) (Data in this news release 
    for persons who are White, Black, or Asian do not include those of Hispanic or 
    Latino ethnicity. Data on persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity are presented 
    separately.)

  --Foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in 
    service occupations and less likely to be employed in management, professional, 
    and related occupations. (See table 4.)

  --The median usual weekly earnings of foreign-born full-time wage and salary workers 
    were $715 in 2016, compared with $860 for their native-born counterparts. (See 
    table 5.) (Differences in earnings reflect a variety of factors, including 
    variations in the distributions of foreign-born and native-born workers by 
    educational attainment, occupation, industry, and geographic region.)

Demographic Characteristics

The demographic composition of the foreign-born labor force differs from that of the 
native-born labor force. In 2016, men accounted for 57.9 percent of the foreign-born 
labor force, compared with 52.3 percent of the native-born labor force. By age, the 
proportion of the foreign-born labor force made up of 25- to 54-year-olds (73.4 percent) 
was higher than for the native-born labor force (62.4 percent). Labor force participation 
is typically highest among persons in that age bracket. (See table 1.)

In 2016, nearly half (48.3 percent) of the foreign-born labor force was Hispanic, and 
one-quarter (25.0 percent) was Asian, compared with 10.4 percent and 1.9 percent, 
respectively, of the native-born labor force. About 16.2 percent of the foreign-born 
labor force was White and 9.3 percent was Black, compared with 73.0 percent and 12.1 
percent, respectively, of the native-born labor force.

In 2016, 22.4 percent of the foreign-born labor force age 25 and over had not completed 
high school, compared with 4.5 percent of the native-born labor force. The foreign born 
were less likely than the native born to have some college or an associate degree--17.0 
percent versus 29.8 percent. The proportions for foreign-born and native-born persons 
were more similar for those with a bachelor's degree or higher (35.9 percent and 39.6 
percent, respectively) and for high school graduates, no college (24.7 percent and 26.1 
percent, respectively). 

Labor Force

The share of the U.S. civilian labor force that was foreign born increased to 16.9 
percent in 2016 from 16.7 percent in 2015; it was 13.3 percent in 2000. (See table 1.)

In 2016, the labor force participation rate of the foreign born was 65.2 percent, 
unchanged from the prior year. The participation rate for the native born was 62.3 
percent in 2016, little different from 2015. The participation rate of foreign-born 
men was 77.8 percent in 2016, higher than the rate of 67.5 percent for native-born men. 
In contrast, 53.4 percent of foreign-born women were labor force participants, lower 
than the rate of 57.5 percent for native-born women.

Among the major race and ethnicity groups in 2016, labor force participation rates for 
foreign-born Whites (59.0 percent), Blacks (70.1 percent), Asians (63.1 percent), and 
Hispanics (67.9 percent) were little different from the prior year. The participation 
rates for native-born Whites (62.4 percent), Blacks (60.1 percent), Asians (62.6 percent), 
and Hispanics (64.0 percent) also showed little change from 2015 to 2016.

In 2016, foreign-born mothers with children under 18 years old were less likely to be 
labor force participants than were native-born mothers--58.9 percent versus 73.9 percent. 
Labor force participation differences between foreign-born and native-born mothers were 
greater among those with younger children than among those with older children. The 
labor force participation rate of foreign-born mothers with children under age 6 was 
49.5 percent in 2016, much lower than that for native-born mothers with children under 
age 6, at 69.0 percent. Among women with children under age 3, the participation rate 
for the foreign born (44.3 percent) was 22.1 percentage points below that for native
-born mothers (66.4 percent). The labor force participation rates of foreign-born and 
native-born fathers with children under age 18 were more similar, at 93.5 percent and 
92.6 percent, respectively. (See table 2.)

By region, the foreign born made up a larger share of the labor force in the West 
(24.1 percent) and the Northeast (19.5 percent) than for the nation as a whole (16.9 
percent) in 2016. In contrast, the foreign born made up a smaller share of the labor 
force than for the nation as a whole in the South (16.1 percent) and the Midwest (8.6 
percent). (See table 6.)

Unemployment

From 2015 to 2016, the unemployment rate of the foreign born declined from 4.9 percent 
to 4.3 percent, and the jobless rate for the native born fell from 5.4 percent to 5.0 
percent. The over-the-year decrease in the unemployment rates of the foreign born and 
the native born reflected decreases in the rates for both men and women. The 
unemployment rate for foreign-born men fell from 4.5 percent to 3.8 percent, and the 
rate for foreign-born women was down from 5.6 percent to 5.1 percent. Among the native 
born, the rate for men fell from 5.6 percent to 5.2 percent, while the rate for women 
was down from 5.1 percent to 4.7 percent. (See table 1.)

For both the foreign born and the native born, jobless rates vary considerably by race 
and ethnicity.  Among the foreign born, Blacks had the highest unemployment rate (6.1 
percent) in 2016. The unemployment rates were 4.7 percent for Hispanics, 3.7 percent 
for Whites, and 3.4 percent for Asians. Among the native born, Blacks also had the 
highest jobless rate (8.8 percent), followed by Hispanics (6.8 percent). The 
unemployment rates were 4.2 percent for Asians and 4.0 percent for Whites. 

Occupation

In 2016, foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed 
in service occupations (23.5 percent versus 16.5 percent); in production, transportation, 
and material moving occupations (14.8 percent versus 11.1 percent); and in natural 
resources, construction, and maintenance occupations (13.6 percent versus 8.3 percent). 
(See table 4.)

Native-born workers were more likely than foreign-born workers to be employed in 
management, professional, and related occupations (40.7 percent versus 32.2 percent) 
and in sales and office occupations (23.4 percent versus 15.9 percent).

Among the employed, foreign-born men were more likely than native-born men to work in 
natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; in production, 
transportation, and material moving occupations; and in service occupations. Compared 
with employed native-born women, employed foreign-born women were more likely to be in 
service occupations; in production, transportation, and material moving occupations; 
and in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations. The disparity was 
especially great in service occupations--32.5 percent of employed foreign-born women 
worked in service occupations in 2016, compared with 19.4 percent of employed native-
born women. In contrast, employed native-born men and women were more likely than their 
foreign-born counterparts to be in management, professional, and related occupations 
and in sales and office occupations.

Earnings

In 2016, the median usual weekly earnings of foreign-born full-time wage and salary 
workers ($715) were 83.1 percent of the earnings of their native-born counterparts 
($860). Among men, median weekly earnings for the foreign born ($751) were 79.0 percent 
of the earnings of the native born ($951). Median earnings for foreign-born women ($655) 
were 86.0 percent of the earnings of their native-born counterparts ($762). Differences 
in earnings reflect a variety of factors, including variations in the distributions of 
foreign-born and native-born workers by educational attainment, occupation, industry, 
and geographic region. (See table 5.)

Among the major race and ethnicity groups, Hispanic foreign-born full-time wage and 
salary workers earned 83.5 percent as much as their native-born counterparts in 2016. 
For Black workers, earnings for the foreign born and the native born were relatively 
close. For White and Asian workers, earnings for the foreign born were slightly higher 
than for the native born. 

The earnings of both foreign-born and native-born workers increase with education. In 
2016, foreign-born workers age 25 and over with less than a high school education earned 
$489 per week, while those with a bachelor's degree and higher earned about 2.7 times as 
much--$1,311 per week. Among the native born, those with a bachelor's degree and higher 
earned about 2.4 times as much as those with less than a high school education--$1,253 
versus $525 per week.

Native-born workers earn more than foreign-born workers at most educational attainment 
levels. Among foreign-born full-time workers, those with less than a high school diploma 
earned 93.1 percent as much as their native-born counterparts, compared with 85.8 percent 
for high school graduates, no college, and 90.0 percent for those with some college or an 
associate's degree. The gap between the earnings of foreign-born and native-born workers 
closes at higher levels of education; among those with a bachelor's degree and higher, 
the earnings of foreign-born workers ($1,311) were not much different from the earnings 
of native-born workers ($1,253).



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Last Modified Date: May 18, 2017