By Erick Garcia Luna

Since January 2020, employers across the United States have filled the job hole created by the pandemic, plus another 5 million jobs. That ability to hire suggests there is an expanding labor pool. The growing foreign-born1 population is a contributing factor.

In the Minneapolis Fed’s Ninth District, foreign-born growth rates have been robust, and the share of the labor force comprised of foreign-born workers has increased. Still, compared with the national average, the concentration of foreign-born workers remains relatively low in district states. (Foreign born means they were not born in the US, and pertains to both citizens and non-citizens.)

After declining early in the pandemic, the U.S. foreign-born population bounced back strongly. According to the Current Population Survey, from 2010 to 2023, the foreign-born population grew by 30 percent, more than three times faster than the native-born population.

There are other differences among groups. Foreign-born men tend to participate in the labor force at higher rates than native-born men and women, regardless of nativity. Among women, rates tend to be slightly higher among native-born workers.

But the gap seems to be closing, and quickly in some cases. In Minnesota, labor force participation among foreign-born women has been higher than that of native-born women since 2021.

The foreign-born labor force is also relatively younger. Across the country, about 70 percent were between the ages of 25 and 54—what economists call the “prime” labor force—compared with 62 percent of the native-born labor force. That younger share is even higher in some Ninth District states, like North Dakota, at 82 percent.

Fast growth among the foreign-born workers means their slice of the labor force is also growing.

Nationwide, 18.6 percent of the total labor force in 2023 was foreign-born, up from 15.8 percent in 2010. Despite high growth rates among district states, their labor force shares still lag far behind that national average. At the top, Minnesota’s labor force share of foreign-born workers was 10 percent in 2023. At the bottom, Montana’s share is just 3 percent despite having seen 55 percent growth in foreign-born workers since 2010.

In North Dakota, a much higher growth rate among the foreign-born population has pushed its labor force share from about 3 percent in 2010 to almost 7 percent in 2023.

Over the years, North Dakota has worked particularly hard to integrate people from around the world into the labor force.

“We want new arrivals to have the same opportunities as everyone else,” said Janna Pastir, deputy director of the North Dakota Department of Commerce Workforce Development Division. “Coordinated language, adult education, and digital skills programming help integrate immigrants to meet the needs of our economy.”


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