American Economy Fueled by Immigrants During The '90s

December 10, 2002

A new report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University concludes that recent immigrants were critical to the nation's economic growth in the past decade, accounting for half of the new wage earners who joined the labor force in those years.

The report offers powerful new evidence of the growing impact of immigrants in American society. Earlier data from the 2000 Census showed a record number of new arrivals during the 1990s that prevented population loss in some cities and rural areas. The newly analyzed workforce numbers show that immigration is also redrawing the profile of the U.S. workforce, in some cases transforming entire industries.

  • The effect was particularly large among men: Eight of 10 new male workers in the decade were immigrants who arrived during that time.
  • More than 13 million immigrants came to the United States from 1990 to 2001 - some legally and some illegally - drawn by the healthy economy and family ties.
  • The report said 8 million immigrants joined the labor force, which means they were either working or looking for work, over a period when the total number of new workers was 16 million.
  • The impact on the workforce was significantly larger than in the previous decades -- for example, immigrants accounted for 10 percent of the labor force growth in the 1970s, roughly a quarter in the '80s and half in the '90s.

"The American economy absolutely needs immigrants," said Andrew Sum, director of the labor market center. "I realize some workers have been hurt by this, and some people get very angry when I say this, but our economy has become more dependent on immigrant labor than at any time in the last 100 years."

Source: D'Vera Cohn, "Immigrants Account for Half of New Workers," Washington Post, December 2, 2002.

 

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