Too often the disparaging rhetoric we hear about the foreign-born doesn’t conform with our own everyday reality. Many of Long Island’s estimated 550,000 immigrants — about 20% of the Island’s overall population — work in myriad jobs we all depend on. They are the folks who paint your home, serve in restaurants, construct buildings, teach your children, staff hospitals and nursing homes, and run their own businesses.
The current immigrant population is weaving itself into Long Island life, as earlier generations did. A new report about their roles in the region's workforce should be kept in mind when assessing the comments of public officials about those here legally as their claims for asylum are processed.
The report found that 60% percent of the 300,000 LI immigrants working full time hold middle- or high-wage jobs with annual earnings from $48,000 to above $140,000. These jobs include nurses, delivery people, and emergency services staff whose importance was underlined during the recent pandemic. Top-paying jobs are in computer operations, medicine, finance and management, the report said.
Not everything is rosy, far from it. The other 40% of Long Island immigrant workers are in lower-wage jobs, making under $48,000, and face many challenges in adapting to Long Island. Their jobs include taxi drivers, stock and order fillers, laborers and movers.
According to the Immigration Research Initiative, a research group that received a $25,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation for this new study, low-wage immigrant workers face difficulties such as affordable housing, access to health care, racial and sex bias, as well as the high cost of living. Overall, an estimated 65,000 immigrants on Long Island are living here illegally, many presumably without the job and safety protections afforded citizens and those with legal documentation.
The report documents the breadth of their employment: Some 8,000 immigrants here are employed as retail store supervisors (22% of the LI total), another 5,000 as salespeople, and 4,000 as architects and engineers.
While there are legitimate concerns about sudden overcrowding in some areas, this report underlines that these migrants will likely join the workforce as quickly and as successfully as other foreign-born workers here on Long Island, says co-author Anthony Capote. He told us that as Long Island’s over-65 population requires more services, immigrant workers — who tend to be younger — will be an important part of the employment solution in the health care sector. Right now, there are 9,000 immigrants employed as registered nurses (about 30% of the overall total), making a median wage of $99,000. There are also 6,000 health care technicians and assistants, 2,000 licensed vocational nurses, and 1,000 lab technicians making a median wage of $77,000.
These are the facts, so different from today’s emotional rhetoric. And these numbers will likely grow as the need expands, underlining the role of immigrant workers in providing fresh skills and energy to our ever-changing economy.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.