Institute for Immigration Research

Metro Areas by the Numbers (Boston)

The Metro Areas by the Numbers project is an effort to describe important details related to individual metropolitan immigrant gateways.  Each city in this project will include context from a historical perspective and will help contextualize the impact of immigrants in these places.

BostonskylineImmigrants and the Restructuring of the Boston Metropolitan Workforce, 1970-2010.

Since the 1970s, a significant and growing share of the world economy has shifted from a system of nation-based activity to a system of globalized commodity networks. The consequent decline in domestic manufacturing and growth of the service sector within the United States has resulted in a restructuring of the national economy, leaving its mark on local and regional economies as well. The workforce has correspondingly shifted over the past four decades as the types of jobs have changed within and across industries. Further, the workforce has demographically transformed during this period. Much of this demographic change has been attributed to the entry and subsequent progression of the baby boom cohort through the workforce. However, the impact of immigration patterns should not be neglected. Importantly, the abolishment of nation-based immigration quotas through the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 facilitated the growing importance of new immigrants as economic contributors to the United States, especially in urban areas.

As a case study, this research brief takes a closer look at the economic changes that have occurred in the Boston Metropolitan Area (Figure 1) since the 1970s, as the region has fought to remain competitive in the global economic landscape. Specifically, it considers changes in the workforce based on industry employment data from the decennial census and considers the role that foreign-born workers in the largest industries have played in enabling economic restructuring and growth from 1970 to 2010. In order to understand how national economic restructuring and immigration impacted the metropolitan area’s workforce, this study focuses on the six largest industries over this time period: manufacturing, retail trade, professional and related services, business and repair, finance, insurance and real estate industries (F.I.R.E.), as well as transportation, communications and public utilities.

This research brief shows that over the past forty years, the proportion of immigrants in the area’s labor force has more than doubled, such that more than one-fifth of the area’s labor force is foreign-born. During the same time period, the proportion of foreign-born workers in the professional services and the computer and software manufacturing and development industries grew by large margins.

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