Jobs Americans Won't Do?

The majority of illegal-alien workers and low-skilled immigrants hold jobs in service, construction, and manufacturing. But native-born Americans hold the majority of these jobs within each sector. The Pew Hispanic Center also estimates that only 4% of illegal workers in the United States work in agriculture. 7 million illegal aliens hold non-agricultural jobs in the U.S.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are approximately 8.3 million illegal workers in the United States. Only 4% of illegal workers work in agriculture (Pew Hispanic Trust, Tables 5 & 6), where most laborers are foreign-born  and employers have a legal guestworker program (the H-2a visa) to supply all the seasonal labor they need. Nationally, 25% (of 1.4 million) crop laborers are U.S. citizens; 21% are legal immigrant workers (including H-2a workers); and 53% are illegal workers (National Agricultural Workers Survey). In the midwest, 48% are citizens, 23% are legal permanent residents, and 29% are illegal workers.


When people claim that these workers are taking jobs that Americans won't do, they ignore these statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009 averages):

  • 77.7 percent of the 7.75 million workers in food preparation and serving jobs are native-born workers (does not include legal immigrant workers). It is harder to get a job at McDonalds than it is to get into Harvard.
  • 65.8 percent of 5.38 million workers in cleaning and maintenance jobs are native-born workers (does not include legal immigrant workers)
  • 74.5 percent of the 7.45 million workers in construction and extraction jobs are native-born workers (does not include legal immigrant workers)
  • 75.9 percent of the 7.63 million workers in production jobs are native-born workers (does not include legal immigrant workers)

It is clear then, that these ARE jobs that Americans will do, if paid a fair wage.

According to research by Andrew Sum, a labor economist at Boston's Northeastern University, shows that the ratio of unemployed persons to job openings for construction workers is  22.1 to one, while for manufacturing it is 13 to 1. In December of 2000 these same ratios were 3.5 and 1.7 respectively. (Reuters, "U.S. Blue Collar Army Chases Few Vacancies")

Journalist Mark Cromer wrote about his experience trying to find a minimum wage job in California in "Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Job?"

For more information on native and immigrant employment by occupation, see the Center for Immigration Studies backgrounder and scroll down to Table 8.