New Study Reveals U.S. Needs Immigrants Now More Than Ever

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank committed to informing the public about domestic and international issues and trends, recently released a statistical portrait of the nation’s immigrant population. The study, titled “Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States,” not only reveals the incredible diversity of the immigrants who have traveled to our shores to live, work, and follow their dreams, but also details the myriad of ways that immigrants contribute to our economy. It also offers a glimpse of how Americans as a whole view immigrants, and how they wish to shape the future of immigration policy.

By calculating census data from 1850 through 2015, the Pew Research Center determined that the United States is now home to more immigrants than any other country in the world. Over 40 million people living here were born in another country, which accounts for about one fifth of the world’s migrants as of 2015. The surge in the U.S. immigrant population coincided with a 1965 law that replaced a quota system based on country of origin with a policy focused on family reunification and skilled immigrants. Roughly one million immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year, and most hail from India, Mexico, China, and Canada. [See Key Findings About U.S. Immigrants, by Gustavo Lopez and Kristen Bialik, Pew Research Center, 03.May.2107.]

The study found that more than three-quarters of immigrants living in the United States are in the country legally. The number of unauthorized immigrants has decreased by about one million since 2007, largely due to the decreased economic prospects brought on by the Great Recession. Despite living in the United States without lawful status, unauthorized immigrants comprise about five percent of the civilian labor force, while immigrants who have entered the country legally make up roughly 17 percent of the civilian labor force. Lawful immigrants are more likely to have advanced educational degrees, and therefore hold jobs in white-collar industries such as management or finance, while unauthorized immigrants tend to find work in blue-collar fields such as construction.

The study revealed that the U.S. public holds a wide array of opinions regarding immigration. However, the perception of immigration appears to be starkly divided among political party lines. A majority of Democrats feel that immigrants strengthen the country, while fewer than half of Republicans feel the same way. And while 63 percent of Americans view immigration favorably overall, the clear majority of the U.S. public wants immigration levels to decrease or remain at their current levels. But keeping immigrants out could have a potentially disastrous effect on future generations, since the study predicts that immigrants and their descendants will account for 88 percent of U.S. population growth by 2026. This influx to our population will be imperative to maintaining the strength of our economy as the Baby Boomer generation heads into retirement over the next few decades.

While the Pew Research study provides fascinating statistical insight into the immigrant population, we must remember that immigrants are not an abstract assortment of numbers and data. They are people, with unique stories, skills, hopes, and dreams. Their contributions to the U.S. economy, our status among nations, and American culture are beyond measure. Their successes strengthen the entire nation grows stronger. We owe it to future generations to keep the American dream alive for anyone willing work hard and contribute – wherever they come from.


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