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Unauthorized Workers Still Stuck in Low-Skilled Jobs

The Pew Research Center released a study in March 2015 that found a subtle change in the unauthorized immigrant workforce since the Great Recession of 2007.

The number of unauthorized immigrants working the United States stayed relatively the same through the last eight years. But the work they were doing showed a significant shift from blue collar labor to white collar.

“The number of unauthorized immigrants in management or professional related jobs grew by 180,000, while the number in construction or production jobs fell by about 475,000, mirroring rises and declines in the overall U.S.


economy,” according to the study's authors. “The share of all unauthorized immigrant workers with management and professional jobs grew to 13% in 2012 from 10% in 2007, and the share with construction or production jobs declined to 29% from 34%.”

The report was written by Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer, and D’Vera Cohn, senior writer. Pew said editorial guidance was provided by Claudia Deane, vice president, research; and Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research. Renee Stepler, research assistant, created charts and tables. Michael Keegan, information graphics designer, created the maps. Eileen Patten, research analyst, number-checked the graphics and text. Molly Rohal copy-edited the report. All are on the staff of the Pew Research Center.

Despite the shift toward more white collar jobs, most unauthorized workers still wind up at the bottom end of the labor ladder, researchers found. As of 2012, 62% of them held service, construction and production jobs, twice the share of U.S.-born workers in those lower-skilled jobs.

The unauthorized immigrant share of the work force peaked at 5.4% in 2007, when the two-year Great Recession began, and the country's total population of unauthorized immigrants reached more than 12 million.

“The number in the labor force has ranged from 8.1 million to 8.3 million since 2007,” according to Passel and Cohn. “The relative stability of the size of the unauthorized immigrant labor force since 2007 contrasts with a marked decline in the overall U.S. unauthorized immigrant population, which peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, dropped through 2009 and stabilized after that, to total 11.2 million in 2012.”

Overall, the recession hit Hispanic children hard, according to other research from the Pew Center. And more Latino families, especially new immigrants, are falling below the poverty line.

Pew researchers found that more Hispanic children are living in poverty (6.1 million in 2010) than children of any other racial or ethnic group. The shift accelerated as the recession deepened from 2007.

Researchers called it the first time in U.S. history that the single largest group of poor children was not white. In 2010, 37.3% of poor children were Latino, 30.5% were white or Anglo and 26.6% black, a Pew study found.

Children from immigrant families were especially hard hit by the economic downturn. The Pew researchers found that close to 70% of the 6.1 million Hispanic children living in poverty had immigrant parents. The vast majority (86.2%) of those children, however, were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens.

The collapse of the housing market also hit Hispanic families harder than other groups.

The main reason most immigrants have come to the United States during the last century is economic advancement, a fact that is especially evident when it comes to migrant traffic – both legal and illegal – across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recent trends show that, as the Mexican economy has improved going into 2013, the number of migrants coming here has steadily dropped. Tougher border controls and the struggling U.S. job market have been the main reasons for declines in workers' migration to the north.

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