High immigration levels over the past two decades have resulted in immigrants comprising an increasing share of the U.S. labor force. Immigrants constitute 14 percent of all workers and accounted for 50 percent of the growth in the labor force in the 1990s. While some immigrants arrive in the U.S. with work skills and language proficiency, many do not. More so than in the past, workers with limited English skills face significant barriers to economic advancement. Immigrants make up 20 percent of the low-wage workforce in the U.S., and two-thirds of low-wage immigrant workers do not speak English proficiently. Nearly half of immigrant workers earn less than 200 percent of the minimum wage; only a quarter have job-based health insurance.
But without adequate skills many may not be able to fill high-demand jobs, start successful businesses, earn family-sustaining wages, or make significant contributions to tax revenues. Around the country, a number of innovative initiatives are investing in low-skilled immigrant workers to increase their opportunities for economic advancement. In our new report, Sound Investments: Building Immigrants’ Skills to Fuel Economic Growth, Mobility examines these promising efforts, highlights strategies that appear to be working well, and recommends additional programmatic investments and policy reforms to address the needs of more immigrant workers.