In 2018, 46 million people living in the United States—or 14 percent of the population—had been born in other countries. CBO examines the employment and earnings of men and women by their legal immigration status, level of education, and birthplace.
In 2018, 46 million foreign-born people lived in the United States, accounting for 14 percent of the total population, and three-quarters of them were here legally, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. The population with legal status increased steadily from 20 million in 1998 to 35 million in 2018. The increase in the population without legal status was smaller; that number grew from 8 million in 1998 to a high of more than 11 million in 2007 and has changed little since then.
In this report, CBO examines the employment and earnings of men and women by their legal immigration status, level of education, and birthplace.
Employment by Legal Status. The number of foreign-born people ages 25 to 54 who were employed grew between 1998 and 2018, whereas the number of native-born people of those ages who were employed shrank slightly. (That reduction was partly attributable to a decline in the native-born population in that age range.) Employment rates were very similar for foreign-born people with and without legal status and were comparable to employment rates for native-born men; 89 percent of foreign-born men and 84 percent of native-born men were employed in 2018. Among women, employment rates were lowest for those without legal status and highest for those who were native born.
Earnings by Legal Status. Workers without legal status earned substantially less than other people. Foreign-born workers with legal status had earnings similar to those of their native-born counterparts—on average, about $70,000 a year for men and $48,000 a year for women in 2018.
Employment and Earnings by Level of Education. People ages 25 to 54 without legal status were less likely to have a college degree and especially less likely to have a high school diploma than other people in that age range. The employment rate for people without legal status, which averaged 73 percent from 1998 to 2018, was largely unaffected by their level of education and was similar to the employment rate for high school graduates in other populations. Workers without legal status earned less than others with comparable education.
Employment and Earnings by Birthplace. The likelihood of employment among men did not vary much by birthplace. Women from Mexico were the least likely to be employed. Average earnings were highest for workers from India, China, and the Philippines and almost always lowest for workers from Mexico.