Immigrants Working in Education During Covid-19 Crisis

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, millions of students face severe challenges as they transition to remote learning. At every level, from daycare centers and preschools all the way up to colleges and universities, immigrants in the U.S. education sector play a significant role in supporting children and their families. Together, they help ensure America’s next generation receives the quality education they need during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.

The latest data from the American Community Survey show that 2 million immigrants made up more than one in eight workers in the U.S. education sector in 2018. Nearly 60 percent of these immigrant workers held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Figure 1: Immigrants in the Education Sector

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
Education Sector, Overall 2,056,041 12.8%
Child Day care 278,313 17.7%
K-12 898,365 9.8%
Colleges and Universities 750,415 17.3%
Others Schools and Education Support Services 128,948 14.0%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

In the 15 largest states by population, immigrants make up at least one out of every seven workers in education. In some states, that share is even higher. For example, in New York, California, and Florida, immigrants make up more than one in five workers in this sector.

Figure 2: Immigrant Workers in the Education Sector in the 15 Largest States

State Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
New York 242,521 20.0%
New Jersey 98,841 19.6%
California 393,391 22.4%
Michigan 34,353 7.8%
Massachusetts 74,919 16.3%
Florida 168,876 20.7%
Illinois 78,306 11.9%
Washington 42,860 12.4%
Pennsylvania 51,417 7.9%
Texas 234,691 16.8%
Virginia 66,431 14.4%
Georgia 47,326 9.6%
Arizona 40,767 13.0%
North Carolina 37,333 7.7%
Ohio 30,922 5.8%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Nationwide, more than 278,000 immigrants make up 17.7 percent of all workers at childcare centers. These immigrant workers help take care of children of essential workers who fight on the frontlines. Many now also work with parents at home to continue nurturing children’s early development through online activities.

Figure 3: Immigrant Workers in Child Day Care

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
United States 278,313 17.7%
New York 46,810 37.0%
New Jersey 15,484 33.9%
California 62,401 37.2%
Florida 23,275 28.3%
Illinois 10,511 16.9%
Texas 21,952 17.5%
Virginia 11,513 25.7%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

From socially distant play to virtual storytime, childcare workers and teachers have quickly restructured their programs to ensure children’s safety and to help them adjust to the new learning environment. About one in five childcare workers and one in eight preschool teachers are immigrants.

Figure 4: Select Occupations in Child Day Care in the United States

Occupation Number of Immigrant Workers Immigrants’ Share of Workforce
Childcare Workers 157,776 21.7%
Preschool Teachers 58,506 12.3%
Teaching Assistants 21,324 19.7%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

As millions of students in the K-12 system struggle to cope with major disruptions at school and at home, immigrants, along with their U.S.-born colleagues, help provide the stability students need at a time of crisis. In primary and secondary education, nearly 900,000 immigrants make up almost one in 10 workers nationwide. In California alone, one in five workers in the K-12 system are immigrants.

Figure 5: Immigrant Workers in Primary and Secondary Education

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
United States 898,365 9.8%
New York 111,010 15.6%
New Jersey 49,174 14.9%
California 194,480 19.8%
Massachusetts 20,677 9.4%
Florida 84,675 17.4%
Illinois 28,384 7.8%
Washington 14,314 7.4%
Pennsylvania 12,947 3.7%
Texas 139,405 15.4%
Virginia 28,127 10.9%
Georgia 18,988 6.4%
Arizona 20,974 11.5%
Maryland 20,087 11.2%
North Carolina 11,591 4.4%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

While K-12 schools were already struggling to recruit and retain teachers before the pandemic, immigrants play a critical role in easing the teacher shortage. Nearly one in 13 teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools are immigrants. During the crisis, they are working hard to develop online courses and help students progress through their learning milestones. Among them are also nearly 18,000 foreign-born special education teachers who work with students with special needs, making sure they will not fall behind during the lockdown.

Figure 6: Select Occupations in Primary and Secondary Education in the United States

Occupation Number of Immigrant Workers Immigrants’ Share of Workforce
Elementary and Middle School Teachers 285,238 7.5%
Teaching Assistants 139,104 14.3%
Secondary School Teachers 55,107 7.4%
Special Education Teachers 17,877 7.3%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are also tackling the sudden transition to online learning, with their immigrant staff members working hard to keep students connected and engaged in distance learning. More than 750,000 immigrants make up 17.3 percent of the higher education workforce.

Figure 7: Immigrant Workers in Colleges and Universities

Number of Foreign-Born Workers Share of All Workers, Foreign-Born
United States 750,415 17.3%
New York 70,009 23.2%
New Jersey 27,692 29.2%
California 104,968 22.6%
Michigan 21,477 13.8%
Massachusetts 40,320 22.9%
Florida 49,397 25.6%
Illinois 36,353 18.7%
Washington 16,151 17.5%
Pennsylvania 28,230 14.1%
Texas 63,704 21.4%
Virginia 21,133 16.1%
Georgia 20,196 16.9%
Arizona 13,636 16.6%
Maryland 21,339 19.6%
North Carolina 20,382 14.0%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

As students try to figure out how to address challenges ranging from technical issues to distractions to lack of in-person interaction in online classes, they rely on their teachers and advisers for guidance and instructions, including the more than 370,000 immigrants working in such roles in higher education. In colleges and universities, more than one in five instructors and professors, one in four teaching assistants, and one in eight counselors and advisors are immigrants.

Figure 8: Select Occupations in Colleges and Universities in the United States

Occupation Number of Immigrant Workers Immigrants’ Share of Workforce
Postsecondary Teachers 310,688 23.0%
Teaching Assistants 34,019 29.4%
Counselors and Advisors 14,707 12.3%
Tutors 13,937 18.5%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

More than three-quarters of these immigrants working in higher education have at least a bachelor’s degree, and closely 60 percent have an advanced degree. They are passing on their expertise and experience to students who will soon become an essential part of the force to help the country recover and rebuild after Covid-19.

Figure 9: Educational Attainment of Workers in Colleges and Universities

Share of U.S.-Born Workers Share of Foreign-Born Workers
Bachelor’s Degree 24.6% 18.6%
Advanced Degree 40.8% 59.2%
Source: NAE Analysis of 1-year sample from the 2018 American Community Survey

Reimagining how schools should function in the middle of a pandemic is not an easy task. Still, immigrants in the education sector are helping schools think through the major challenges they face, ranging from issuing new health and safety protocols to offering online instructions, to make sure their students will stay safe, healthy, and educated during this unprecedented crisis.

If you want to explore how immigrants often disproportionately serve in some of the most at-risk jobs in the Covid-19 crisis, including teachers and childcare workers featured in this brief, click the image below to explore our data visualization.

Finally, check out our research portal of Immigration and Covid-19. If you have any specific questions about our data, please reach out to us at info@newamericaneconomy.org.

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