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Nearly One in Six American Workers is Foreign-born; Highly Represented among Least and Most Educated

  • June 16, 2010

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research —

diverseworkers According to the New York Times, nearly one in six American workers is foreign-born, the highest proportion since the 1920s, according to a census analysis released Monday. In 2007, immigrants accounted for more than one in four workers in California (35%), New York (27%), New Jersey (26%) and Nevada (25%).

The proportion of immigrants without a high school diploma is higher than among native-born Americans, but so is the share of immigrants with graduate degrees. While immigrants constitute 16% of the total labor force, the foreign-born (mostly from Asia and Europe) make up 28% of workers with doctoral degrees.

Although immigrants from Asia, Europe and Africa are most likely to be employed in management and professional occupations, Latino immigrants are playing an important role as well. Even in 1970, more than 75% of Latinos between the ages of 16 and 25 were either working, in the military, or going to school. By 2007, that number rose to 86%.

Employers need to do more to support this potential workforce, however. Roughly 20% of Latina women remain uneducated and unemployed, along with 16% of Latino men. Reaching into communities to sponsor programs for young Latinos can help an employer ensure a strong pipeline of workers down the road.

Immigrant workers can benefit the world, and their host countries, in myriad ways. As pointed out by Chris O’Brien in the Mercury News, the six newest Nobel Prize winners are U.S. citizens, but four of those six also are foreign born. This fact illustrates the need for, and power of, migrant workers.

As O’Brien points out, “We are increasingly dependent on brainpower from overseas that migrates here to drive the research and discoveries we need to power economic growth.”

Indeed. And as Andres discusses in chapter 15 of his book, The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity, unless corporations grasp sooner rather than later that we need to do more to ensure the healthy development of  talent across ethnic lines, our own economic survival is at stake.

  1. Reply

    Having a more diverse workforce made up of immigrants from around the world can create more productive, sophisticated and exciting workplaces. But, it can also get employers into trouble if they aren’t prepared to deal with the different issues like time off, prayer, dress code, etc. that can come up with a more culturally and religiously varied workforce. Managers should be coached to navigate these issues, so they can keep employees happy and reap all the benefits of global diversity while minimizing any liabilities.

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