Computer jobs market dominated by native-born Americans, BLS report says

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 465 views 

Widely publicized Silicon Valley success stories often used as recruiting tools abroad perpetuate an unproven belief that foreign-born workers have reaped outsized benefits from the skyrocketing information technology industry in the U.S. in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, data from a new BLS report show native-origin workers make up more than three-fourths of the IT workforce, despite gains in foreign-born employment over the past three decades.

The report looks at whether American-born IT workers have been displaced by foreign-born professionals, and its authors conclude this is not the case.

In 1980, 93% of the U.S. overall workforce were native-born or born abroad to American parents. That number was 83% in 2014, showing a 250% increase in foreign-born professionals during the 34-year period, from 7 million employed and unemployed foreign-born workers in 1980, to 27 million in 2014.

Foreign-born workers’ share of the computer industry also grew during that time period and is greater than its stake in the overall workforce, accounting for 24% of the IT job market in 2014, compared to 7% in 1980. Native-born workers’ stake in computer industries, on the other hand, decreased 17% during that time period, or 0.5% each year, according to BLS.

With 3.55 million workers, the U.S.-born workforce comprised 76% of the IT industry in 2014, adding 3.12 million people in the 34-year period, while the foreign-born labor force grew by 1.06 million.

Nationally, the IT industry plays a major role in the economy. IT accounted for 6% of total employment in 2013. However, after weighing in technology’s role in supporting sustainable growth, BLS estimates the IT industry directly and indirectly supports about one-fourth of U.S. employment.

On a state level, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has targeted growth in the tech sector as a priority. As of May 2016, the computer science industry was comprised of about 24,000 jobs in Arkansas, or about 2% of the state’s jobs, according to State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from BLS. The two largest tech industry centers were central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas. The Little Rock metro area had about 11,600 tech jobs in 2016, making up 3% of employment. The Fayetteville-Bentonville-Springdale-Rogers metro area showed 8,600 tech jobs, comprising 3.5% of employment, according to BLS.

The nation’s tech hubs represent a different picture from the country’s tech employment situation as a whole. IT employment trends were amplified in those areas, according to BLS.

Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, collectively showed a sharp increase in foreign-born tech talent between 1980 and 2014. BLS identified those areas as tech hubs based on the number of computer software patents filed. Foreign-born workers make up more than half of the IT industry within those regions. In 1980, 89% of the IT workforce was native-born. In 2014, that percentage was 47%, according to BLS.

In Silicon Valley, the foreign-born labor force holds more than 70% of the IT job market. Back in 1990, it held 30%. Authors of the BLS report said a perception of foreign-born dominance on the IT job market could be tied to these Silicon Valley trends.

The share of foreign-born workers is larger in IT jobs with higher creative content, including software developers, while its share of managerial positions within the industry is lower. Native-born workers held 85% or more of network and system administrators and support jobs in 2014.

Foreign-born workers made up at least 28% of creative IT jobs each year from 2005 to 2014, 7%-10% higher each year than their share of all IT occupations, according to BLS data. Among foreign-born IT workers, noncitizens held the highest share of the creative IT job market, exceeding that of naturalized citizens by at least 6% each year since 2005.

The labor force in creative computer-related occupations also increased for native-born Americans, marking 30% growth from 2005 to 2014. It is above their 25% labor force increase in all IT occupations over the same period.

“A closer look at the data reveals that the native-born workers in creative IT jobs had slightly lower average unemployment rates for most periods than their naturalized-citizen counterparts, even though the higher educational attainment of the native-born workers was significantly lower,” according to the BLS report.

Within the native-born creative IT workforce, 67% had college degrees, and the average unemployment rate between 2000 and 2014 was 5%. On the other hand, 86% of naturalized citizens in the IT labor force had college degrees and the average unemployment rate was 5.8%.

Noncitizens in the IT workforce had a 3.2% unemployment rate, and 92% had a college degree. The authors of the BLS report said the low unemployment rate among this population could be contributed in part to strict visa requirements.The average unemployment rate for the entire foreign-origin IT workforce was 4.2%, and 90% of workers had a college degree.

The authors point to similarities between the unemployment rates of the native-born labor force and the foreign-born labor force in creative IT jobs, despite the much higher educational attainment of the latter, as evidence that, within the IT industry, “foreign-born workers are not crowding out native-born workers.”