As the United States wrestles with immigration policy and caring for an aging population, data on immigrants’ role as health care and long-term care workers can inform both debates.
Previous studies have examined immigrants’ role as health care and direct care workers (nursing, home health and personal care aides) but not that of immigrants hired by private households or nonmedical facilities such as senior housing to assist elderly and disabled people or unauthorized immigrants’ role in providing these services.
Using nationally representative data, researchers Leah Zallman, Karen E. Finnegan, David U. Himmelstein, Sharon Touw and Steffie Woolhandler found that in 2017 immigrants accounted for 18.2 percent of health care workers and 23.5 percent of formal and nonformal long-term care sector workers. More than one-quarter (27.5 percent) of direct care workers and 30.3 percent of nursing home housekeeping and maintenance workers were immigrants.
Although legal noncitizen immigrants accounted for 5.2 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 9 percent of direct care workers. Naturalized citizens, 6.8 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 13.9 percent of direct care workers.
In light of the current and projected shortage of health care and direct care workers, our finding that immigrants fill a disproportionate share of such jobs suggests that policies curtailing immigration will likely compromise the availability of care for elderly and disabled Americans.