On May Day, Four Ways Immigrants Are Changing The American Workforce


May Day has become synonymous with the international labor movement, and on Wednesday, immigrants gathered across the country to push for immigration reform and celebrate their participation in the economy. Tens of thousands of people came out to celebrate in cities like San Francisco, New York, and even Bozeman, Montana.

Here’s a look at how immigrants affect the U.S. economy, and why that’s worth celebrating:

1. Immigration improves technological innovation. High-skilled immigrant workers boost innovation and in turn increase the productivity and utility of their surrounding workforce. Silicon Valley would be throwing its support behind immigration reform, and rightfully so: Over half of all new start-ups have been started by foreign-born founders, and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, even though foreign-born individuals only make up an eighth of America’s population.

Currently, there are far more applicants for H-1B high-skilled visas than are available. The Senate bill would create a new visa for entrepreneur engineers who have secured funding to create startups, set a higher quota set for H-1B visas, and make a merit-based green card system that attracts immigrants with advanced degrees.

2. Immigrants increase workers’ wages. A Center for American Progress study found that U.S. gross domestic product would grow by $1.4 trillion between 2013 and 2022 if legalization were conferred to the undocumented population this year. Another study, conducted by Brookings in 2010 found that “immigrants raise the overall standard of living of American workers by boosting wages and lowering prices.” Immigrants and American workers do not compete for the same jobs, but actually have complementary jobs. In that way, immigrants help to increase the productivity — and wages — of native populations.

(Credit: Gianmarco Ottaviano & Giovanni Peri)

3. Immigrants shore up Social Security. According to Stephen Gross, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, undocumented workers paid $15 billion into Social Security “with no intention of ever collecting benefits.” Without the estimated 3.1 million undocumented immigrants paying into the system, “Social Security would have ‘entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover payouts starting in 2009.” Additionally a 2007 study concluded that a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would bring $57 billion to Social Security funds by 2017, while another study predicts that immigrants will add $611 billion to the Social Security system over the next 75 years.

4. Immigrants feed America. The U.S. food system largely depends on immigrant farm workers. According to a 2010 Philip Marin and Linda Calvin study, over half the hired farm workers are not authorized to work in the United States. As a result, immigrants are often exploited with depressed wages and harsh working conditions. However, in a move in the right direction that protects immigrant laborers, states like California are finally proposing legislation that seeks to allow farm workers the ability to report abuse.

In remembering all of the great contributions that the immigrant diaspora has encouraged, May Day serves as a reminder that immigrant workers run the wheels of American society. Incorporating these immigrants into the system will vastly increase the economic prosperity of both native-born and immigrant populations.