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17.0 percent of U.S. labor force in 2020 was foreign born, down from 17.4 percent in 2019

June 07, 2021

The share of the U.S. civilian labor force that is foreign born was 17.0 percent in 2020, down from 17.4 percent in 2019. The economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected the foreign-born labor force. In 2020, the overall labor force declined by 2.8 million; the foreign born accounted for 1.1 million of this decline, or 38.4 percent. Among Asians in the labor force, 68.5 percent were foreign born. The next largest share were Hispanics or Latinos; 44.8 percent of the labor force for that group were foreign born.

Percent of the U.S. labor force that is foreign born and native born, 2020 annual averages
Characteristic Foreign born Native born

Total, 16 years and older

17.0% 83.0%

Men

18.4 81.6

Women

15.4 84.6

Age

16 to 24 years

7.9 92.1

25 to 34 years

15.0 85.0

35 to 44 years

21.0 79.0

45 to 54 years

21.8 78.2

55 to 64 years

17.0 83.0

65 years and older

13.8 86.2

Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

White non-Hispanic or Latino

4.5 95.5

Black non-Hispanic or Latino

14.6 85.4

Asian non-Hispanic or Latino

68.5 31.5

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

44.8 55.2

Educational attainment

Total, 25 years and older

18.3 81.7

Less than a high school diploma

54.7 45.3

High school graduates, no college

18.1 81.9

Some college or associate degree

11.4 88.6

Bachelor's degree and higher

17.2 82.8

The labor force participation rate of the foreign born declined by 1.5 percentage points in 2020 to 64.5 percent. This is the percent of the population that is either employed or unemployed. The labor force participation rate for foreign-born men declined by 1.4 percentage points to 76.6 percent, while that for foreign-born women fell by 1.6 percentage points to 53.2 percent. The labor force participation rate of the native born also declined over the year, falling by 1.3 percentage points to 61.2 percent. The rate for native-born men declined by 1.5 percentage points to 65.9 percent, and that for native-born women was down by 1.1 percentage points to 56.8 percent.

Labor force participation rates of the foreign born and native born, 2020 annual averages
Characteristic Foreign born Native born

Total, 16 years and older

64.5% 61.2%

Men

76.6 65.9

Women

53.2 56.8

Age

16 to 24 years

50.9 54.2

25 to 34 years

75.9 82.5

35 to 44 years

78.5 83.3

45 to 54 years

79.5 80.9

55 to 64 years

67.9 64.1

65 years and older

20.1 19.3

Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

White non-Hispanic or Latino

59.9 60.9

Black non-Hispanic or Latino

69.3 58.9

Asian non-Hispanic or Latino

62.4 62.8

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

66.3 65.0

Educational attainment

Total, 25 years and older

65.6 62.5

Less than a high school diploma

55.8 36.3

High school graduates, no college

62.9 54.6

Some college or associate degree

67.1 63.1

Bachelor's degree and higher

72.9 72.3

Foreign-born men continued to participate in the labor force at a considerably higher rate in 2020 (76.6 percent) than their native-born counterparts (65.9 percent). In contrast, 53.2 percent of foreign-born women were labor force participants, lower than the participation rate of 56.8 percent for native-born women.

Labor force participation rates for the foreign born varied across the major race and ethnicity groups in 2020, ranging from 59.9 percent for foreign-born Whites to 69.3 percent for foreign-born Blacks. Participation rates for the native born showed less variation across major race and ethnicity groups, ranging from 58.9 percent for native-born Blacks to 65.0 percent for native-born Hispanics.

These data are from the Current Population Survey. To learn more, see “Foreign-born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics — 2020.” The foreign born are people who live in the United States but who were not U.S. citizens at birth. People whose ethnicity is Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, 17.0 percent of U.S. labor force in 2020 was foreign born, down from 17.4 percent in 2019 at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/17-0-percent-of-u-s-labor-force-in-2020-was-foreign-born-down-from-17-4-percent-in-2019.htm (visited June 22, 2021).

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