Immigrant Workers in the Hardest-Hit Industries

This post was updated on May 21, 2020 to reflect new job loss data from the Department of Labor

While across the board, workers and families of all kinds saw tremendous job losses unseen since the Great Depression, data from the Department of Labor for March and April 2020 shows that immigrant workers were hit hard by the job losses that have resulted from the coronavirus outbreak. Much of this has to do with the fact that most affected industries from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, such as hospitality related businesses such as hotels and restaurants, are also ones that have disproportionately immigrant workforces. On top of this, many immigrants are not eligible to receive federal aid through the CARES Act. The resulting loss of income among immigrant households, especially those concentrated in certain states and metropolitan areas, may hinder local economies’ road to recovery in the aftermath of the crisis.

Using the latest data from the American Community Survey and the Department of Labor, we estimate exactly how significant the cost could be for the country and some states.

Monthly data for April 2020 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that:

  • The hospitality industry, which includes the food service and hotel and accommodation sectors, again suffered the most severe job loss among industries in April, with more than 6.3 million jobs lost, or 45 percent of the workforce. Nationwide, immigrants make up 22 percent of the hospitality workforce
  • The food service sector, which includes restaurants, cut 5.5 million jobs, or 46 percent of the workforce, in April — nearly one-fourth of all job cuts during that time across the country. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 food service sector workers are immigrants
  • The hotel and accommodation industry, where 1 in 3 workers are immigrants, cut 839,000 jobs in that same time period. Accounting for more than 30 percent of all job losses, the accommodation and food service sector cut 6.3 million jobs.
  • The professional services industry lost 2.2 million jobs or 10 percent of its workforce. This industry, where 1 in 5 workers are immigrants, includes legal, accounting, and business support jobs.
  • Meanwhile, the retail trade industry cut 2.1 million jobs, 13 percent of the workforce in April. One in 7 workers in retail trade are immigrants

Selected Industry Sectors, Job Losses, and Immigrant Workers

Industry Job Losses Immigrant Share of Workforce Number of Immigrant Workers
Leisure and Hospitality -7,653,000 19.5% 2,971,000
-Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation -1,322,800 12.1% 421,000
-Accommodation and Food Services -6,330,300 21.8% 2,550,000
--Accommodation and Hotels -839,000 31.3% 511,000
--Food Service and Restaurants -5,491,300 20.3% 2,039,000
Professional Services 2,165,000 19.8% 3,657,000
Retail Trade 2,106,900 14.3% 2,474,000
Source: U.S. Department of Labor and 2018 American Community Survey.

These losses will be particularly challenging for states and cities where the leisure and hospitality industry employs a large share of the local workforce. In states that have leisure and hospitality workforces that are more heavily immigrant, the challenge is even greater even immigrants’ being more impacted by job losses during the crisis.

For example, in Nevada the leisure and hospitality industry employs a quarter of the state’s workforce and makes up more than 16.3 percent of the state’s entire GDP. More than 1 in 3 leisure and hospitality workers in Nevada are immigrants. In Florida, the $66.6 billion leisure and hospitality industry employs 11.9% of the state’s workforce. More than 1 in 4 leisure and hospitality workers in Florida are immigrants.

Share of Workforce in Leisure and Hospitality for Selected States

State Leisure and Hospitality Workforce Share of Total State Workforce in Leisure and Hospitality Immigrant Share of Leisure and Hospitality Workforce
Nevada 336,000 23.2% 36.1%
Hawaii 114,000 15.8% 31.0%
Montana 64,600 12.2% 4.1%
Florida 1,169,000 11.9% 26.0%
Wyoming 33,300 11.3% 5.3%
New Mexico 99,000 11.2% 16.4%
Arizona 358,000 11.1% 19.8%
Louisiana 226,000 11.1% 4.8%
Rhode Island 56,500 10.6% 14.5%
Colorado 315,000 10.5% 13.2%
U.S. Total 15,200,000 9.6% 19.5%
Source: 2018 American Community Survey.

Taken together, immigrant workers in the leisure and hospitality sector are significant economic drivers as wage earners, earning more than $83.6 billion nationwide annually. The loss of this income would hurt certain states’ economies in particular as this represents billions in lost tax revenue and consumer spending power the sustains local businesses and jobs.

In Nevada, immigrant workers in the sector earned more than $4.3 billion in wages in one year alone. In Florida, the economic fallout could be even greater. Immigrant leisure and hospitality workers in the state earned more than $8.4 billion in 2018 alone.

Total Wages for Immigrant Workers in the Leisure and Hospitality Sector, 2018

State Total Wages
California $18.8 Billion
New York $9.5 Billion
Florida $8.4 Billion
Texas $6.8 Billion
Nevada $4.3 Billion
Illinois $3.6 Billion
New Jersey $3.5 Billion
Massachusetts $2.3 Billion
Virginia $2.2 Billion
Washington $2.2 Billion
U.S. Total $83.6 Billion
Source: 2018 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample.

The data suggests that the loss of income from just those workers who lost their jobs early in the crisis will already be a serious blow to the economy. This is especially true for states and areas where the economy is particularly dependent on the leisure and hospitality sector. Given that these areas also have higher shares of the workforce that are immigrant, the economic disruption may be exacerbated by fact that many immigrant households will not receive financial assistance from the government. In the longer run, this may hinder local economies’ road to recovery in the aftermath of the crisis.

If you would like to learn more about immigrants in the United States in the time of Covid-19, check out our research portal on Immigration and Covid-19. If you have any specific questions about our data, please reach out to us at

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…