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Are There Really Jobs Americans Won’t Do?

May 1, 2013
By Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler

In this Backgrounder for CIS, the authors analyze the claim that the immigrants do only jobs Americans don't want. If the argument is correct, there should be occupations comprised entirely or almost entirely of immigrants (legal and illegal).

employment application

In this Backgrounder for CIS, the authors analyze the claim that the immigrants do only jobs Americans don't want. If the argument is correct, there should be occupations comprised entirely or almost entirely of immigrants (legal and illegal). But Census Bureau data collected from 2009 to 2011, which allows for detailed analysis of all 472 separate occupations, shows that there were only a handful of majority-immigrant occupations. Thus, there really are no jobs that Americans won't do. Further, we estimated the share of occupations that are comprised of illegal immigrants, and found that there are no occupations in which the majority of workers are illegally in the country.

Among the findings:

  • Of the 472 civilian occupations, only six are majority immigrant (legal and illegal). These six occupations account for 1 percent of the total U.S. workforce. Moreover, native-born Americans still comprise 46 percent of workers even in these occupations.

  • Many jobs often thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant (legal and illegal) are in fact majority native-born:
    • Maids and housekeepers: 51 percent native-born
    • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 58 percent native-born
    • Butchers and meat processors: 63 percent native-born
    • Grounds maintenance workers: 64 percent native-born
    • Construction laborers: 66 percent native-born
    • Porters, bellhops, and concierges: 72 percent native-born
    • Janitors: 73 percent native-born
  • There are 67 occupations in which 25 percent or more of workers are immigrants (legal and illegal). In these high-immigrant occupations, there are still 16.5 million natives — accounting for one out of eight natives in the labor force. 

  • High-immigrant occupations (25 percent or more immigrant) are primarily, but not exclusively, lower-wage jobs that require relatively little formal education. 

  • In high-immigrant occupations, 59 percent of the natives have no education beyond high school, compared to 31 percent of the rest of the labor force. 

  • Natives tend to have high unemployment in high-immigrant occupations, averaging 14 percent during the 2009-2011 period, compared to 8 percent in the rest of the labor market. There were a total of 2.6 million unemployed native-born Americans in high-immigrant occupations. 

  • Some may think that native-born workers in high-immigrant occupations are mostly older, with few young natives willing to do such work. But 34 percent of natives in these occupations are age 30 or younger, compared to 27 percent of natives in the rest of labor force. 

  • It is worth remembering that not all high-immigrant occupations are lower skilled. For example, 36 percent of software engineers are immigrants as are 27 percent of physicians. 

  • A number of politically important groups tend to face very little job competition from immigrants (legal and illegal). For example, just 10 percent of reporters are immigrants, as are only 6 percent of lawyers and judges and 6 percent of farmers and ranchers.