On May Day, 4 Ways Immigrants Are Changing The American Workforce

Written by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

May Day has become synonymous with the international labor movement, and on Wednesday, immigrants gathered across the country to push for immigration reform and celebrate their participation in the economy. Tens of thousands of people came out to celebrate in cities like San Francisco, New York, and even Bozeman, Montana.

Here’s a look at how immigrants affect the U.S. economy, and why that’s worth celebrating:

1. Immigration improves technological innovation. High-skilled immigrant workers boost innovation and in turn increase the productivity and utility of their surrounding workforce. Silicon Valley would be throwing its support behind immigration reform, and rightfully so: Over half of all new start-ups have been started by foreign-born founders, and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, even though foreign-born individuals only make up an eighth of America’s population.

Currently, there are far more applicants for H-1B high-skilled visas than are available. The Senate bill would create a new visa for entrepreneur engineers who have secured funding to create startups, set a higher quota set for H-1B visas, and make a merit-based green card system that attracts immigrants with advanced degrees.

2. Immigrants increase workers’ wages. A Center for American Progress study found that U.S. gross domestic product would grow by $1.4 trillion between 2013 and 2022 if legalization were conferred to the undocumented population this year. Another study, conducted by Brookings in 2010 found that “immigrants raise the overall standard of living of American workers by boosting wages and lowering prices.” Immigrants and American workers do not compete for the same jobs, but actually have complementary jobs. In that way, immigrants help to increase the productivity — and wages — of native populations.

(Credit: Gianmarco Ottaviano & Giovanni Peri)


3. Immigrants shore up Social Security. According to Stephen Gross, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, undocumented workers paid $15 billion into Social Security “with no intention of ever collecting benefits.” Without the estimated 3.1 million undocumented immigrants paying into the system, “Social Security would have ‘entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover payouts starting in 2009.” Additionally a 2007 study concluded that a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would bring $57 billion to Social Security funds by 2017, while another study predicts that immigrants will add $611 billion to the Social Security system over the next 75 years.

4. Immigrants feed America. The U.S. food system largely depends on immigrant farm workers. According to a 2010 Philip Marin and Linda Calvin study, over half the hired farm workers are not authorized to work in the United States. As a result, immigrants are often exploited with depressed wages and harsh working conditions. However, in a move in the right direction that protects immigrant laborers, states like California are finally proposing legislation that seeks to allow farm workers the ability to report abuse.

In remembering all of the great contributions that the immigrant diaspora has encouraged, May Day serves as a reminder that immigrant workers run the wheels of American society. Incorporating these immigrants into the system will vastly increase the economic prosperity of both native-born and immigrant populations.

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


Photo: pamhule/flickr


Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

You do realize that the whole concept of "illegal alien" in America was created in the early Twentieth Century, don't you?

Clara Hamill
Clara Hamill3 years ago

Keven I'm not afraid or hate foreign people I just don't want them coming over here and breaking the law.

Connie O.
ConnieAway O.3 years ago


bob m.
bob m.3 years ago

Duh....Eh Kevin?... duhhhhhh....

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Well looking over these comments, it is obvious that xenaphobia is alive and well, even here on Care2.

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby3 years ago


Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

That is true Robert. We need to penalize those who hire them illegally. Unfortunately, a lot of them are farmers who raise hand-picked crops. So it would affect food prices for all of us to some degree. In the small town where I was born, 35miles form Mexico, crime rates spiked when the locals switched to growing a lot of hand-picked crops. Drug problems followed too. My parents grew up there and when my Dad went back as an assistant principal at a middle school he could not believe the differences.

When we do catch them, they need to go in the system and be tracked before deportation. Penalties for being caught illegally in the US should rise exponentially. Especially for violent criminals, three strikes and you get a free trip to Mexico City. Well, to the airspace over it and out the back of a C-130...

Robert H.
Robert Hamm3 years ago

They can't and won't hunt down 11 million people no matter how much people scream for it. Logistically it is not possible. If the workers are illegal then the companies hiring them are illegal. You don't think the companies are lobbying congress to leave things as they are??? ANYTHING for lower wages.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm3 years ago

As soon as businesses stop recruiting them so they can get 7 dollar an hour employees that they can abuse you come talk to me. Until then NOTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE.

Nick Andrews
Nico Smart3 years ago

Robert H, we need to deport 11 million criminals. And we sure as hell can, and the costs need to be deducted from any foreign aid we give Mexico. We should have the National Guard stationed along the border, just like every civilized nation on Earth does.

We also should have special visas for people who want to come in and work on the farms. They need to pay taxes on the money and leave when they are done working. No food stamps, no free medical care, nothing 'free' for them. You want a job, then come do it, then go home.