State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in Albany in May of last year.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in Albany in May of last year. Credit: Hans Pennink

New York City’s immigrant workforce declined slightly over the past decade, even as the foreign-born labor market grew nationwide, potentially hurting local industries that rely on nonnative workers for fields such as construction, transportation and utilities, according to a new report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The findings, released Thursday, provide fresh perspective on the impact of immigrant workers — both those classified as United States citizens and noncitizens — on the city's workforce.

The numbers are unrelated to the influx of asylum-seekers that have moved to the city since April 2022, the report said, because of difficulties in capturing reliable employment data on these individuals.

“New York City’s labor market and economy greatly benefit from the contributions of immigrant workers,” DiNapoli said. “Many industries rely on foreign-born workers to keep businesses going, but we’ve seen a decline in this workforce when compared to the city’s peak in 2015. There are still many barriers for individuals who come to the U.S. looking for work and a better life.”

In 2023, there were 1.816 million foreign-born workers in the city, down 0.6% or 10,000 workers, from 1.826 million in 2015, according to data analyzed from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During that period, the nation's immigrant workforce grew by 18.5%, data shows.

The lack of growth in the city’s foreign-born workforce was probably driven by the pandemic and the implementation of Trump administration immigration policies, including  the temporary revocation of legal protections for immigrants, the issuing of fewer visas and increased deportations, DiNapoli said.

Despite the decline, the city's 1.8 million foreign-born workers made up 44.3% of its total labor force — more than double the national share of 18.6% — and contributed nearly $383 billion to the city’s economy in 2022, the comptroller's office found.

The report also found that certain sectors will be affected more than others by the dip in foreign-born city workers.

For example, immigrants comprise nearly 70% of the city's construction workforce; 65% of the transportation and utilities industries and almost 55% of the manufacturing sector, the report said.

The city's immigrant labor force, the report found, is also concentrated in industries that pay less than the private sector, such as health care, social assistance and food services. Foreign-born workers also comprise nearly half of the city's self-employed population.

Foreign-born workers were hit particularly hard by the pandemic and faced a 13.6% unemployment rate in 2020, compared to 11.7% among American-born employees, according to the data.

But the immigrant workforce, particularly naturalized citizens, have recovered in the subsequent years. The unemployment rate among foreign citizens is now considerably lower than the native population in New York, records show.

While older adults born outside the United States have seen their unemployment rates decline since 2019, younger workers aged 16 to 24 experienced a 5.2% increase in unemployment.

“Within the foreign-born labor force, young workers actively seeking work continue to struggle with double-digit unemployment at over 15%, similar to young workers citywide,” the report states. “The city should continue to advertise its enhanced Summer Youth Employment Program, open to residents aged 14 to 24 with work authorization.”

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