Testimony of Jeffrey S. Passel – Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, Industries and Occupations
The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing on March 26 at 10 a.m. titled “Securing the Border: Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows.” You can read Pew Research Center Senior Demographer Jeffrey Passel’s testimony below and watch a webcast of the hearing here.
Written testimony submitted to
U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Securing the Border:
Defining the Current Population Living in the Shadows and Addressing Future Flows
Jeffrey S. Passel
Pew Research Center
March 26, 2015
Chairman Johnson, Ranking member Carper and members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to testify at this hearing about estimates of the numbers and trends of unauthorized immigrants, their distribution across states and their role in the labor force. I am appearing as the principal author of several recent Pew Research Center reports on these topics. The Pew Research Center does not take positions on policy issues. We are a nonpartisan “fact tank” that generates information we hope will be of value to policymakers. My testimony today summarizes some of the key findings of our research.
In my written statement, I will cover a range of research findings about unauthorized immigrants: I start with national and state trends in the size and growth of the unauthorized immigrant population. These trends are analyzed with regard to the national origins of the unauthorized immigrants, focusing on those from Mexico. Then I turn to a discussion of the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force and changing patterns over time. Finally, I examine the industries and occupations where unauthorized immigrants are represented with a discussion of differences across the states. This testimony draws heavily from a report the Pew Research Center released last November (Passel and Cohn, 2014) and a new report we are releasing today (Passel and Cohn, 2015).
The unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 after growing steadily by about half a million per year from 3.5 million in 1990. After 2007, the trend changed abruptly and the numbers dropped dramatically by about 1 million over the next two years to 11.3 million in 2009 as the number of new unauthorized immigrants arriving plummeted and large numbers left the country. Since 2009, the national unauthorized immigrant population has remained essentially unchanged as arrivals and departures have come into rough balance. (See Figure 1.)
From 1990 to 2007, the number of unauthorized immigrants increased in every state, but growth was slower in the six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations than in the rest of the nation as a whole. California, the state with the largest number of unauthorized immigrants in all years, experienced the largest numerical growth, but its 88% increase from 1990 to 2007 was slower than that of other large states and nearly all smaller states. As a group, the other five largest states (Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas) experienced growth in their unauthorized immigrant population at the national average of 250% over the period. Meanwhile, the unauthorized immigrant population in the rest of the country increased almost sevenfold, from 700,000 in 1990 to 4.7 million in 2007.
These growth differentials led to a marked shift in the distribution of unauthorized immigrants across the country. The share in California dropped to 23% in 2007 from 42% in 1990. The share in the other five large states was unchanged at 38%, but the share in the rest of the country essentially doubled, to 39% in 2007 from 20% in 1990. With the overall decreases in the unauthorized immigrant population since 2007, these shifts came to a halt.
Post-Recession Trends in Unauthorized Immigrant Populations
The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population has leveled off nationally after the Great Recession, but state trends have been more volatile. From 2009 to 2012, according to recent Pew Research Center estimates, the population of unauthorized immigrants rose in seven states and fell in 14.1
Five East Coast states were among those where the number of unauthorized immigrants grew from 2009 to 2012—Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Numbers also rose in Idaho and Nebraska, according to the center’s estimates. (See Map 1.)
Six Western states are among those with declines in unauthorized immigrant populations from 2009 to 2012—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon. Other states with decreases over that period are in the South (Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky), the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana and Kansas) and the Northeast (Massachusetts and New York).
The differential growth across states is related to patterns of change in Mexican and non-Mexican unauthorized immigrant populations. According to a Pew Research analysis, the losses in 13 of the 14 states were due to drops in the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, who make up the majority of unauthorized immigrants. The exception was Massachusetts, where the overall decrease was due to a decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants from other countries.
In six of the seven states where populations of unauthorized immigrants grew from 2009 to 2012, it was because the number of non-Mexicans increased; the number of Mexicans declined or did not change. The exception was Nebraska, which had a small but statistically significant increase in Mexican unauthorized immigrants in those years.
There is wide variety in state populations of unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research estimates. More than half the 2012 unauthorized immigrant population (60%) lived in the six states with the largest numbers of such immigrants—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas. At the opposite end, six states (Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia), had fewer than 5,000 unauthorized immigrants each in 2012. Unauthorized immigrants accounted for 3.5% of the 2012 U.S. population of nearly 316 million and 26% of the nation’s 42.5 million foreign-born residents, according to the center’s estimates. Both shares were larger in 2007, the peak year for the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population, at 4.0% and 30%, respectively.
Most of the states with the largest numbers of unauthorized immigrants also have relatively high shares of unauthorized immigrants. The six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas—are among the states with the 10 highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in their overall populations. (In addition to these six states, Nevada, where unauthorized immigrants account for 7.6% of the population, ranks first; Arizona, at 4.6%, is sixth; Maryland, 4.3%, is seventh; and Georgia, 3.9%, is eighth.)
Similarly, states with relatively lower numbers of unauthorized immigrants tend to have lower shares in the overall population; in 27 states, unauthorized immigrants make up less than 2.5% of the population. (For all states, estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population, the number in the labor force, and their share of the total population and labor force can be found in Appendix Table A1.)
In addition to unauthorized immigrants, the nation’s foreign-born population of 42.5 million people in 2012 consisted of 11.7 million legal permanent residents, 17.8 million naturalized citizens and 1.9 million legal residents with temporary status (including students, diplomats and “high-tech guest workers”).
Origins of Unauthorized Immigrants
Mexicans are a majority of unauthorized immigrants (52% in 2012), but both their numbers and share have declined in recent years, according to Pew Research estimates. Although the U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants was stable from 2009 to 2012, the number of Mexicans in this population fell by about half a million people during those years. According to the Pew Research Center estimates, there were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants in 2012, compared with 6.4 million in 2009 and 6.9 million in 2007. (See Figure A1 in Appendix A.) The decline likely resulted from both an increase in departures to Mexico and a decrease in arrivals from Mexico (Passel, Cohn and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2012).
After top-ranked Mexico, there is a large drop in the numbers of unauthorized immigrants from other specific countries. El Salvador, with 675,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2012, is the second-largest source. It is followed by Guatemala (525,000), India (450,000), Honduras (350,000), China (300,000) and the Philippines (200,000). Rounding out the top 10 in 2012 are Korea (180,000), the Dominican Republic (170,000) and Colombia (150,000).
As the Mexican numbers continued to drop between 2009 and 2012, unauthorized immigrant populations from South America and from a grouping of Europe and Canada held steady. Unauthorized immigrant populations from Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and the rest of the world grew slightly from 2009 to 2012.
Among the 44 states (and District of Columbia) for which data about national origin are available,2 Mexicans make up the majority of all unauthorized immigrants in 26 of them. The four states where Mexicans make up more than eight-in-ten unauthorized immigrants are all in the West—New Mexico (89%), Arizona (84%), Idaho (83%) and Wyoming (82%).
States with low shares of Mexicans include some in the Northeast: New Hampshire (7%), Rhode Island (6%) and Massachusetts (3%). Hawaii’s share was 7%.
Even in states where Mexicans are not the majority of unauthorized immigrants, they are frequently the largest national origin group—36 states have more Mexicans than any other unauthorized immigrants. Mexicans are not the largest group in three New England states—New Hampshire, where India is the largest birth country; Massachusetts with El Salvador; and Rhode Island where Guatemala is the largest. In the area around the nation’s capital (the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia), unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador constitute the largest group. Hondurans outnumber Mexicans in Louisiana. In Alaska and Hawaii, unauthorized immigrants from the Philippines are the largest group, representing a majority of Alaska’s unauthorized immigrant population and almost half of Hawaii’s.
Unauthorized Immigrants in the Labor Force
The 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants who were working or looking for work in 2012 made up 5.1% of the labor force or about one-in-twenty U.S. workers. Both of those estimates are unchanged from 2009. The number in the labor force has remained between 8.1 million and 8.3 million since 2007. (See Figure A2 in Appendix A.) The share of unauthorized immigrants in the workforce peaked in 2007, at 5.4%.
The share is markedly higher in some states, especially those with high shares of unauthorized immigrants in the population. Among adults ages 16 and older who are working or looking for work, unauthorized immigrants represent the highest share in Nevada (10.2% in 2012); Nevada also has the highest share of unauthorized immigrants in the overall population (7.6%). The share in the labor force also is relatively high in California (9.4%) and Texas (8.9%), which rank second and third in the unauthorized immigrant share of the total population. (Appendix Table A1 shows the number and share of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force for each state.)
Unauthorized immigrants are more likely than the overall U.S. population to be of working age and less likely to be young or older (Passel and Cohn, 2009). That is one reason that the unauthorized immigrant share of the labor force is higher than its share of the population overall.
Unauthorized immigrants of working age have substantially different patterns of labor force participation than do people born in the U.S. Unauthorized immigrant men of working age are considerably more likely to be in the workforce than U.S.-born men (91% versus 79%). For women, the opposite is true; only 61% of unauthorized immigrant women are in the labor force, compared with 72% of U.S.-born women. For both genders, substantial portions of the U.S.-born population of working age are not in the labor force because they are attending school, retired or disabled, but that is true for only a small share of unauthorized immigrants. A major difference for women is that a higher share of unauthorized immigrant women say they are not working and have young children at home (22%) compared with other immigrants (13%) and U.S.-born women (7%). While there have been some modest changes in labor force participation rates over the past 20 years, the participation of unauthorized immigrant men and women, relative to the U.S.-born population and legal immigrants, has remained essentially unchanged since 2005.
Concentrations of Unauthorized Immigrants: Industries
Because unauthorized immigrants tend to have less education than people born in the U.S. or legal immigrants, they are more likely to hold low-skilled jobs and less likely to be in white-collar occupations; further, their status limits job opportunities. Consequently, unauthorized immigrants tend to be overrepresented in certain sectors of the economy. Of all unauthorized immigrant workers, 22% are in services (professional, business and other3), 18% in the leisure and hospitality sector and 16% in construction (Table 1). These three industry sectors encompass 55% of unauthorized workers but only 31% of U.S.-born workers. Manufacturing (13%) and agriculture (5%) also have relatively large shares of the unauthorized immigrant workforce. (Data on the composition of all major industries are shown in Appendix Table A8.)
Looked at using another metric—the unauthorized-immigrant share of the total workforce—it becomes clear that they are particularly concentrated in some subsets of each major industry. In 2012, they represented 24% of workers in the landscaping industry, 23% of those in private household employment, 20% of those in apparel manufacturing, 20% in crop production, 19% in the dry cleaning and laundry industry and 19% of those in building maintenance. These figures are much larger than unauthorized immigrants’ share of the overall workforce—5.1%. (Figure 4 below shows major industry concentrations. A more extensive listing of detailed industries is shown in Appendix Table A7.)
The industry concentrations of unauthorized immigrants vary across the states, depending, in part, on the countries of origin of the immigrants and the nature of each state’s economy. We produced estimates of the number of unauthorized immigrant workers by industry in 43 states and the District of Columbia where there are enough unauthorized immigrants in the workforce to provide reliable data. The leisure and hospitality industry has the most unauthorized immigrant workers in 14 states and the District of Columbia, construction does in 11 states and manufacturing does in 11 states. The states where leisure and hospitality is the largest sector for unauthorized immigrants tend to be in the West or Northeast (plus, not surprisingly, Florida). The states where manufacturing is the largest tend to be in the Midwest, and the construction-dominated states tend to be in the South. (Appendix Table A2 shows the largest three major industries in each state together with the share of the state’s unauthorized immigrant workers in the industry.)
Looked at another way—using the unauthorized-immigrant share of each industry’s workforce—the picture of industry concentration changes somewhat. In almost half of the states (21 of 43), agriculture is the industry with the largest share of total workers who are unauthorized immigrants; in 10 other states, agriculture is the industry with the second largest share who are unauthorized immigrants. These 31 states are spread in all regions of the country. The agriculture industry ranks first in this regard in every Western state for which data are available, except Alaska and Nevada; in Nevada, it ranks second. The construction industry is also one where the share of workers who are unauthorized immigrants tends to be large (first in 10 states and the District of Columbia, second in 15 and third in nine). As with numbers of unauthorized immigrant workers, the states where the construction industry workforce has the largest share of unauthorized immigrants tend to be in the South. (Appendix Table A4 shows the three major industries in each state that have the largest shares of their workers who are unauthorized immigrants.)
Concentrations of Unauthorized Immigrants: Occupations
Industry classifications tend to contain occupations requiring a range of education levels, whereas occupation classifications tend to include jobs requiring similar skill levels or certifications. Because unauthorized immigrants tend to cluster in low-skilled jobs, they tend to be even more concentrated in specific occupation groups than in specific industries.
Among unauthorized immigrants in the labor force, 33% are service workers, 15% are construction workers and 14% are production and installation workers. Almost two-thirds (62%) of unauthorized immigrant workers have occupations in these three broad categories; by contrast, only half that share (31%) of U.S.-born workers have such occupations. (See Table 2. Appendix Table A9 has data on the composition of all major occupation groups.)
Because they are so concentrated in certain major occupation groups, unauthorized immigrants are a high proportion of workers in some more detailed categories. For example, 26% of farmworkers are unauthorized immigrants, as are 17% of building, groundskeeping and maintenance workers, and 14% of construction workers. Unauthorized immigrants also are overrepresented as a share of food preparation workers and servers (11%), production workers (9%) and transportation and material moving workers (7%) compared with their overall presence in the labor force.
Within these categories, there are some specific, detailed occupations where unauthorized immigrants are even more highly concentrated. They are especially likely to hold certain low-skilled jobs in construction and service categories. For example, unauthorized immigrants are about one-third of drywall installers (34%) and farm laborers (30%). They represent about one-quarter of roofers (27%), maids (25%), painters (24%), masons (22%) and carpet and floor installers (22%). (See Appendix Table A6 for other detailed occupations with high shares of unauthorized immigrants.)
At the state level, there is much less diversity in broad occupation groups than in broad industry groups. In 39 of 43 states and in the District of Columbia, service occupations account for the largest number (and share) of unauthorized immigrants in the workforce. Construction and production occupations also have large shares across many states, but these groups tend to have fewer unauthorized immigrant workers than service occupations. (Appendix Table A3 shows the top three major occupation groups in terms of the number of unauthorized immigrants together with their share of unauthorized workers in the state.)
Again, the picture changes when we examine the occupation groups where unauthorized immigrants make up the largest share of workers in the group. In 34 states, the occupation group with the highest proportion of workers who are unauthorized immigrants is farming, fishing and forestry (i.e., agriculture). This occupation group’s total workforce has the highest share consisting of unauthorized immigrants nationally (26%). But because agriculture employs less than 1 percent of the U.S. workforce, there are very few states where these agricultural occupations represent a significant share of the unauthorized immigrant workforce.
Construction jobs tend to have high shares of unauthorized immigrant workers. This occupation’s workforce has the highest share of unauthorized immigrants in six states and the District of Columbia, the second highest in 24 and the third highest in another five. Service occupations and production occupations tend to have relatively high shares of workers who are unauthorized immigrants, but at levels somewhat below agriculture and construction occupations. (Appendix Table A5 has the top three major occupation groups with the largest share of their workers who are unauthorized immigrants.)
- Seven states where the unauthorized immigrant population is too small to permit a reliable analysis of trends were excluded: Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. ↩
- This analysis excludes states where the unauthorized immigrant population is too small to permit a reliable breakdown of the unauthorized immigrant population into subgroups: Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia. ↩
- These services cover a wide range of industries and businesses from legal services and advertising to employment services, landscaping and waste management to personal services such as dry cleaning, nail salons and religious organizations. ↩