Size of U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Workforce Stable After the Great Recession

Source: Pew Research Center

Declines in eight states and increases in seven since 2009

There were 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. working or looking for work in 2014, making up 5% of the civilian labor force, according to new Pew Research Center estimates using government data. The number was unchanged and the share was down slightly since 2009, the year the Great Recession officially ended.1

The recent stability in the trend for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. workforce echoes that for the unauthorized immigrant population overall. Both groups had grown rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s. Compared with their sizes at the start of the recession in 2007, the unauthorized immigrant workforce was slightly smaller in 2014 and the overall unauthorized immigrant population was markedly smaller. From 2009 to 2014, when the number of unauthorized immigrant workers was stable, eight U.S. states – Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, South Carolina and Rhode Island – had statistically significant declines in the number of unauthorized immigrants in their workforces. Seven U.S. states – Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Washington – had increases in the number of unauthorized immigrants in their workforces.2

Most states that experienced change in their unauthorized immigrant workforces also experienced change in their total unauthorized immigrant populations. In 12 states, both the total number of unauthorized immigrants and the number of unauthorized immigrants in the civilian labor force changed in the same direction from 2009 to 2014. In three states where the unauthorized immigrant workforce changed from 2009 to 2014 – Minnesota, Rhode Island and Utah – unauthorized immigrant populations overall did not change during the period.

Looking at 2014 estimates, states with the largest number of total unauthorized immigrants in their workforces also were among those states with the largest overall populations of unauthorized immigrants. They included California, with 1.7 million unauthorized immigrant workers; Texas, with 1.1 million; and New York, with 600,000. States where unauthorized immigrants accounted for the largest share of the workforce included Nevada (10.4%); California (9.0%) and Texas (8.5%). (See the chart here for the top states.)

These key findings – and others about the occupations and industries in which unauthorized immigrants work – come from new Pew Research Center estimates based mainly on U.S. Census Bureau data. Details concerning the source material and methods for calculating the estimates are available in the Methodology.

The nation’s 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants made up 26% of the nation’s 43.6 million foreign-born residents in 2014. The U.S. foreign-born population also included 19 million naturalized citizens, 11.7 million lawful permanent residents and 1.7 million lawful residents with temporary status (such as students, diplomats and “guest workers” in the technology sector). In total, immigrants represented 13.6% of the U.S. population in 2014.

In 2014, the nation’s civilian labor force consisted of about 133 million U.S.-born workers (83% of the total), 19.5 million lawful immigrant workers (12%) and 8 million unauthorized immigrant workers (5%). The numbers of U.S.-born members of the workforce and lawful immigrant members of the workforce increased from 2009 to 2014, while the number of unauthorized immigrant workers did not.

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