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Immigration relief in BBB can help curb inflation
by stabilizing supply chains amidst historic labor shortages

Workers at Bennett Packaging prepare Catch Co.'s "12 Days of Fishmas," advent calendars for shipping, in Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 26, 2021. The travails of Catch Co. highlight how pandemic shutdowns, strong consumer demand and other factors have come together to fracture the global conveyor belt for businesses trying to deliver items in time for the holidays. (Chase Castor/The New York Times)
More than 3.4 million immigrants covered by immigration relief provisions in the BBB currently work in industries experiencing some of the highest labor shortages"

UPDATED 12/09/2021 with data from Bureau of Labor Statistics’ October 2021 job openings report and November 2021 unemployment report.

As the United States continues to experience historic labor shortages contributing to inflation and driving up costs for families, FWD.us analysis below shows that immigration relief could help address these shortages and curb inflationary trends. FWD.us estimates that more than 3.4 million immigrants, or about half of those covered by immigration relief provisions in the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, currently work in industries experiencing some of the highest labor shortages (6% or higher share of jobs unfilled).1

The BBB’s immigration relief provisions would offer work permits and protections to an estimated 5.3 million undocumented workers who have lived in the U.S. since 2011, and would allow hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers who currently hold legal status but are waiting for permanent status to more quickly obtain a green card.

Immigrants in the workforce, including those who are undocumented and those waiting to transition from temporary to permanent status, need certainty in their legal status to help stabilize our country’s labor force and stave off increased inflation. Without the passage of BBB, workers facing the threat of deportation or expiring work permits will contribute to further uncertainty for them and for the labor force in these industries.

Millions of immigrants covered by the Build Back Better Act work in industries with labor shortages

Industry with labor shortages% of all jobs that remain unfilledExisting immigrant workforce covered by Build Back Better Act
Accommodation, food services10.7680,000
Transportation, warehousing, utilities8.6250,000
Healthcare and social assistance8.3270,000
Professional and business services7.9740,000
Arts, entertainment, recreation7.670,000
Manufacturing7.4610,000
Other services7.1340,000
Retail trade6.4420,000
Information6.160,000
Total3,440,000

Source: Bureau of Labor job opening rate statistics in October 2021; FWD.us analysis of augmented 2019 American Community Survey data.

Note: Only industries with 6% or higher job opening rates included. Immigrant workers include both undocumented and lawful temporary workers waiting for an adjustment of status included in the Build Back Better Act. Professional and business services include landscape and waste management workers. Population estimates rounded to 10,000.

Immigrants who would benefit from provisions in the BBB, including undocumented workers, make up more than 3% of the total U.S. labor force.

Immigrants of all statuses make up nearly a fifth of the U.S. labor force. More specifically, immigrants who would benefit from provisions in the BBB, including undocumented workers, make up more than 3% of the total U.S. labor force. This is a significant share of the U.S. workforce, particularly while we are facing such severe worker shortages.

Worker shortages have especially impacted several key industries—including transportation and warehousing, as well as accommodation and food services—as the U.S. economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. While these industries in particular have struggled to fill key roles, they are also those in which a high number of immigrant workers who would be provided relief by BBB are currently working.

For example, a severe shortage of workers in transportation and warehousing has contributed to supply chain issues, which have in turn contributed to inflation.  Immigration relief as provided in BBB would strengthen access to lawful employment for an estimated 250,000 workers in transportation and warehousing. Additionally, another 610,000 immigrants working in manufacturing covered by BBB help produce some of the products shipped along these supply chains. These workers ensure goods are delivered to stores and homes nationwide.

With 8.3%% of all jobs unfilled, the healthcare industry cannot afford to lose any more workers, including immigrants who are at risk of deportation or who face an expiring work permit."

Without legal protections, the threat of deportation for immigrants and their families would wreak further havoc on the nation’s supply chain. With most living in the U.S. on average for 20 years, these immigrant workers are already working in these industries; however, many are working without authorization, leaving employers open to significant labor uncertainty if workers were suddenly to be deported. Similarly, many temporary workers are limited by the strict requirements of their work visas, with some who have seen their permits expire due to bureaucratic delays. If backlogs remain or grow even worse, many may choose to abandon their work in the U.S. and take their talents elsewhere.

Similarly, FWD.us analysis indicates that 680,000 immigrant workers covered by BBB’s immigration provisions work in accommodation and food services, an industry where 10.7% of all jobs are unfilled. And with COVID-19 infection rates expected to remain high this winter, the estimated 270,000 immigrant healthcare and social assistance workers covered by BBB, such as hospital staff and senior home aides, are essential for the nation’s health. With 8.3% of all jobs unfilled, the healthcare industry cannot afford to lose any more workers, including immigrants who are at risk of deportation or who face an expiring work permit.

Congress needs to finish its legislative work on immigration provisions in BBB without delay.

Families in our country are gravely concerned by inflation, and persistent worker shortages present a clear inflationary pressure. Not only can immigration provisions in BBB shore up existing workforces in industries experiencing labor disruptions, the act’s provisions would also allow, in the long term, millions of potential new workers backlogged in the lawful immigraion system to come to the U.S. to work. This could help offset the decrease in lawful immigration experienced during the Trump Administration, a likely contributing factor to our current labor force shortages. Consequently, enacting BBB will help ensure an expanding U.S. economy with a growing immigrant labor force, an effort that is essential to remain globally competitive.

Millions of essential immigrant workers and their families are dependent on immigration relief offered in BBB. Congress needs to finish its legislative work on immigration provisions in BBB without delay. Now is the time to provide millions of immigrants relief that will keep our economy strong.

Phillip Connor

Senior Demographer

Notes

  1. Immigrants living in the United States benefiting from immigration provisions in the Build Back Better (BBB) act include undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. since 2011 and those waiting for an adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence. See our methodology on how these immigrant groups are identified in the 2019 American Community Survey. Population estimates presented in this report are further narrowed to those employed in industries with 6% or higher job opening rates in October 2021). Employment rates in 2019 for foreign-born workers are very similar to recent employment rates of the foreign-born labor force; consequently, no adjustments were made to account for employment differences between the two time periods.
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