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A new report blends demographic and labor market analysis with stakeholder interviews to generate fresh workforce policy recommendations for New York City. A City of Immigrant Workers: Building a Workforce Strategy to Support All New Yorkers was released at a Ford Foundation event last month.
Funded by Ford and the New York Foundation, the report was produced by the Center for an Urban Future and the Center for Popular Democracy. While primarily aimed at municipal and philanthropic leaders, the report’s findings also have rich implications for workforce, adult education, and immigrant advocates.
Perhaps most importantly, the report explicitly builds off of the nationally recognized Career Pathways report issued by New York City last year. This deliberate framing emphasizes a central contention of the new report: That for the city’s ambitious Career Pathways initiative to succeed, it will need to be intentional in addressing the assets and needs of immigrant workers.
Setting the Stage: Workforce Demographics and Landscape
The report opens with a portrait of New York City’s immigrant workforce. Immigrants make up nearly half (47%) of the city’s workforce, nearly triple the national rate of 17%.
The report draws on US Census Bureau data to explore New York City immigrant workers’ earnings; major sectors of employment; language skills; educational backgrounds; and immigration status. In particular, it highlights the high percentages of immigrant workers in six sectors that were identified in the Career Pathways report as priorities for building industry partnerships.
How Immigrants Relate to the City’s Workforce Ecosystem
Next, the report presents an analysis of immigrants in relation to the city’s labor market and so-called “workforce ecosystem.” The workforce system in New York City includes services provided by more than 15 city agencies, supported by approximately $500 million in public funds. An additional $72 million in private philanthropy is also devoted to workforce development.
Yet despite this substantial investment, the report says, “there is limited quantitative data about how public and privately funded workforce services entities connect with immigrants in New York City.” This lack of data is extreme: The city’s public Workforce1 Career Centers do not even have comprehensive data on how many foreign-born New Yorkers are accessing their services, much less what services they are receiving or their outcomes.
(New York is not alone; this is a national problem. Learn more in NSC’s fact sheet on workforce program data and immigrants, published in collaboration with the Workforce Data Quality Campaign.)
Few NYC workforce and adult education programs are specifically targeted at immigrants, the report notes. Of those that are directed toward foreign-born New Yorkers, most focus on English language instruction. A relative handful provide workforce services, such as sector-focused bridge programs for Limited English Proficient jobseekers.
Another section of the report focuses on the informal sector, where workers toil in unregulated and unmonitored workplaces. Unusually for a workforce study, the report explores the “competition” that private employment agencies represent for public and nonprofit workforce providers. In contrast to public workforce centers (a map of which is included in the report) these private agencies are often located in immigrant-dense neighborhoods.
More worryingly, the authors note, these private employment agencies “often prey upon the financial vulnerability and/or instability of a worker’s immigration status” by charging excessive fees, offering meaningless certifications, and connecting workers to jobs that pay far below the legal wage.
Key Barriers & Recommendations for Action
The bulk of the report focuses on barriers faced by immigrant workers and promising strategies for overcoming those barriers. The report’s recommendations fall into three broad categories: 1) Build the right career ladders for immigrants; 2) improve immigrant access to workforce development through systems coordination; and 3) raise workplace standards for immigrant workers.
Below, we explore select recommendations:
To view the remainder of the recommendations, refer to the full report.
Implications for Other Cities
The New York report provides a powerful roadmap that advocates in other cities and states may consider replicating. Elements that could most easily be adapted include: