New Report Highlights Spectrum of Immigrant Experiences

May 1, 2023

Press Releases

For Immediate Release: Monday, May 1, 2023


Anthony Capote, senior policy analyst, [email protected], 305-878-3177

David Dyssegaard Kallick, director, [email protected], 646-284-1240

Most immigrants have been able to find at least moderate success in the U.S. economic landscape and a substantial number have done quite well, according to a study released today by Immigration Research Initiative. At the same time, disproportionate numbers of immigrants struggle to make ends meet in low-wage jobs.

“Two things are true at once,” said Anthony Capote, co-author of the report and senior policy analyst at Immigration Research Initiative. “On the one hand, many immigrants are paid less than it costs to survive in the U.S. economy, despite working in jobs that we all rely on. On the other hand, most immigrants find success in all areas of the economy. Millions of immigrants work in middle- and even upper-wage jobs as doctors, computer scientists, lawyers, and managers.”

The study defines wage categories based on the median for full-time, year round workers. Middle-wage is between 2/3 and double the median—$35,000 to $104,000. Low-wage is under $35,000, and upper-wage is above $104,000. “Immigrants” includes all people born in a foreign country and living in the United States, whatever their immigration status.

Using these definitions, about two thirds of immigrants working full-time are in middle-wage jobs or better—48 percent of immigrants are in middle-wage jobs, and 17 percent in upper-wage jobs.

By the same token a little more than a third of immigrants, 35 percent, are in low-wage jobs. In the low-wage labor market, the challenges are greater across the board for women, and for Latinx and Black workers, whether immigrants or U.S.-born. Of the 33 million people in the U.S. working full-time yet in low-wage jobs, 7 million are immigrants—a substantial share of whom are undocumented—and 25 million are U.S.-born.

“There is more than one immigrant story,” added David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of Immigration Research Initiative. “Immigrants are bus drivers, construction workers, engineers, doctors, nurses, accountants, emergency services staff, college professors, and more.”

“If we want to understand what’s happening in the low-wage labor market,” Kallick added, “it’s critical to understand the struggles of immigrants, people of color, and women. But if we focus only on the low-wage labor market then we leave out the varied and often successful story of most immigrants in America.”

There are 45 million immigrants living and working in the United States. They account for 17 percent of the national labor force and contribute $3.3 trillion to the U.S. economic output (GDP). Despite immigrants’ integral role in virtually every aspect of daily and economic life, anti-immigrant policy and sentiment continue to present significant hurdles to sustained economic success for millions of immigrants.

Quotes from State Partners:

“Immigrants in the U.S. Economy: Overcoming Hurdles, Yet Still Facing Barriers highlights the economic hardships immigrants face despite making meaningful contributions to the economy. Although they make up 14% of the U.S. population, their hard work results in 17% of the nation’s economic output (GDP). Still, they are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs, a problem that is especially acute for Black and Latinx immigrants. In New Mexico, 35% of immigrants are in jobs paying less than $35,000, compared to 26% of U.S.-born workers. Moving forward, policymakers should use this information to design inclusive economic policies that help all families thrive. Regardless of their status, immigrants work, pay taxes, and create jobs – all of which add to the strength and vitality of our communities.”—Javier Rojo, Research and Policy Analyst, New Mexico Voices for Children

Read the report