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Should Labor Day Celebrations Pay Tribute to Immigrant Workers?

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Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Through the years, the nation has given increasing emphasis to Labor Day. As celebrations are set to begin in a few weeks, the holiday offers an opportune moment to reflect on the very concept of American Workers. After all, should Labor Day celebrations pay tribute to immigrant workers? Who is an American worker? Where do immigrants, who contribute their talents and labor to the production of goods and services in the United States, fit into the picture?

The United States has used immigration to help fill labor supply needs, enabling the country to remain the world’s economic superpower. It has been said that the United States’ most precious periods coincide with the waves of immigration and immigrant workers, whom continue to be a key component of the U.S. economy. Sixteen percent of the country’s workforce is comprised of foreign-born workers. The U.S. economy benefits from the valuable skills and talents provided by foreign-born, highly-skilled scientists, engineers, and medical doctors. Moreover, our society and economy also relies on the employment of immigrants of different skill levels for a variety of industries, many of which experience labor shortages. Key industries include agriculture, food processing, construction, or eldercare.

In 2010, there were a reported 23.1 million foreign-born persons in the American civilian labor force, constituting 16.4 percent of total American workers. Moreover, this number grows exponentially every single year. Back in 1970, immigrant workers only comprised five percent of the American workforce. Perhaps the most important aspect of the study that was conducted using the 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS), Census data, and the American Community Survey (ACS), is that these numbers were comprised using data that includes natural citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary migrants (including H-1B workers and students), refugees, asylum seekers, and an estimation of unauthorized immigrants. Although the numbers of immigrant workers has increased, as well as their percentage of the workforce, the immigrant share of the labor force has taken a dip to 42 percent from 2005-2010. In previous years, the percentage was 68 percent.

Despite the growing need for immigrant labor, anti-immigrant voices portray immigrant workers as a threat to American Workers. Oftentimes, immigrants are denied immigration bail bonds and denied due process in their efforts to become U.S. citizens, making them face deportation or detainment in an ICE facility. However, research shows that as a whole, foreign-born workers do not affect U.S. employment. In fact, it has shown that foreign-born and native-born workers tend to have differentiated sets of skills and new immigrant labor creates new opportunities for the native-born labor force to specialize in. In other words, the influx of immigrant workers encourages native-born workers to pursue more complex occupations, thereby enhancing wage outcomes.

No matter the circumstances, when it comes to Labor Day, we should be paying tribute to all citizens or workers in America, all of whom contribute to our great American economy.

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