Data Snapshot: Immigrant Workers in the New Jersey Economy

Blog Post, Ramya Devan, Professor of Economics, Stockton University, and Madison Giusti, Stockton Student Majoring in Economics…

Contrary to the negative perceptions about an immigrant crisis and immigrants being an economic burden, actual labor market trends suggest otherwise. Rather than a drain on the economy, an uptick in immigration presents an opportunity to alleviate nationwide labor shortages, as described in previous work. Nationally, foreign-born workers accounted for a record-high 18.1 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force in 2022, often working in professions with the most critical and unmet demand for workers. Moreover, a greater percentage of foreign-born workers (65.9%) are either employed or actively looking for work, compared to native-born workers (61.5%). In this data snapshot, we look at how New Jersey compares to these national trends. Available county-level data from census sources show that immigrant workers are even more crucial to the New Jersey economy.

Foreign-born workers accounted for 28.95 percent of the New Jersey labor force. In the infographic maps below, we see that in some counties the number is even greater. For example, Hudson County, Middlesex County, and Union County are particularly dependent on immigrant workers as they make up over 40 percent of their labor force. Like the national trend, foreign-born workers in New Jersey also have greater labor force participation rates. 69.89 percent of immigrant workers were either employed or actively looking for work compared to 64.71 of the native-born workers. Labor force participation rate for foreign workers was higher than native-born workers in 16 out of the 18 New Jersey counties where data was available. The gap between the foreign-born and native-born labor participation rates was exceptionally high in Mercer County (+13.97 percentage points) and Atlantic County (+ 10.01 percentage points). Immigrant workers are therefore indispensable to the economies of these counties.

Foreign-born workers also work in a wide variety of critical sectors in New Jersey. Software developers, registered nurses, construction laborers, maids, janitors, teachers, retail salespersons, drivers, and cooks are some of the most frequent occupations. Foreign-born software developers are a large part of the workforce in Hudson, Hunterdon, and Middlesex counties, where it is the most common occupation for immigrant workers. In Bergen and Somerset counties, it is the second most common occupation for immigrant workers. In these five counties alone, there are about 35 thousand foreign-born software developers. According to the BSA Foundation, the software sector helped create a total of 306,605 jobs across a variety of occupations and added 26.3 billion dollars in GDP in New Jersey from 2018 through 2020. There were also over 26 thousand foreign-born nurses and nursing assistants in the various counties in New Jersey providing much-needed care services.

The labor market data shows that immigrant workers are vital to the New Jersey economy. It would therefore seem to be in the state’s interest to contribute to a more positive narrative about immigration reform that is focused on expanding pathways for legal employment access to immigrants rather than expanding punitive action against potential immigrants.