More big-city immigrants work in white-collar jobs

Sandy Smith's picture

Maybe it's time to revise the lines about "your tired, your poor" in that Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty. A new study of Census data reveals that nearly half of all immigrants in the nation's 25 largest metro areas - and a majority in 13 of them - work in the white-collar occupations that make up the bulk of the nation's middle and upper middle class.

The study, conducted by the New York State-based Fiscal Policy Institute, revealed that 47.7 percent of all immigrants living in the 25 biggest metros held white-collar jobs, slightly more than the national average of 45.4 percent. In 13 of the 25, more than half of all immigrants held such jobs, ranging from a low of 50.4 percent in New York to a high of 75.8 percent in Pittsburgh.

One interesting fact the study revealed is that the proportion of immigrants holding white-collar jobs rises inversely with metropolitan growth. In other words, the highest percentages of white-collar immigrants are found in the slowest-growing metropolitan areas, while the fastest-growing ones have the lowest.

One reason why: Slow-growth areas offer fewer opportunities for poorer and less-skilled immigrants to find suitable work, so they tend to attract immigrants who are recruited by local institutions to fill positions requiring high levels of education and skill. Pittsburgh (75.8% of immigrants in white-collar jobs), Baltimore (61.9%), Cincinnati (60.9%), Detroit (60.1%) and St. Louis (57%) all fall within this category. At the opposite end are high-growth metros in the Southwest and West: Phoenix (33%), Dallas (34.7%), Denver (36.6%), Riverside, Calif. (37%) and Houston (37.9%).

Backing up this explanation is the smaller total percentage of immigrants in slower-growing areas. Pittsburgh, where immigrants make up only 3 percent of the metro population, trails the list, followed by Cincinnati and St. Louis, each with 4 percent, Cleveland with 6 percent, and Detroit and Baltimore, with 8 percent each.

The overall data indicate that contrary to popular opinion, immigrants are distributed broadly across the American economic spectrum. Within the 25 largest metros, the occupational category with the highest share of immigrants is executive, administrative and managerial positions, with 11 percent of all immigrants employed in such jobs, followed by administrative support jobs, with 10 percent. Seven percent of big-city immigrants worked in foodservice and skilled construction trades, respectively, and professional educators/social workers/social scientists/artists, personal service workers, sales clerks/cashiers and laborers each accounted for 6 percent.

Overall, the FPI study confirms that immigrants make major contributions to the overall economic health of America's largest cities in unexpectedly diverse ways.

Written by Sandy Smith

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