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Black Immigrants On The Front Lines Of COVID-19

Above photo: Barwako Abayle, an immigrant student from Burlington High School, listens during a meeting with lawmakers about racial inequality at her school on April 26, 2012 in Montpelier, Vermont. By Toby Talbot, AP.

As the country continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Black immigrants — immigrants who identify as Black regardless of country or region of birth — are playing an important role on the front lines in healthcare, food supply, education, and biomedical industries.


Black immigrants make up a significant portion of healthcare workers. In 2018, there were more than 560,000 Black immigrant workers in the healthcare sector. These workers made up 3.4 percent of all healthcare workers, a share almost three times their share of the U.S. population. Black immigrant workers are especially active as health aides and nurses.

  • Almost 211,000 Black immigrants represent 9.4 percent of health aides, a proportion more than 7 times the Black immigrant share of the total U.S. population.
  • Over 145,000 Black immigrants represent 3.9 percent of nurses, a share more than three times the general population share.
  • In the top 10 states (and 11 more) the Black immigrant share of healthcare workers is above the general population share.
  • New York (12.1 percent), Maryland (11.6 percent), and Florida (8.1 percent) top the list of largest shares of Black immigrant healthcare workers.

U.S. Food Supply Chain

In the food industry at large, there are over 223,000 Black immigrant workers.

  • Black immigrant workers are well represented in the food production industry, where almost 39,000 Black immigrants make up 2.3 percent of all food production workers.
  • The largest number of Black immigrant workers in the U.S. food supply chain can be found in the food service sector, where just over 117,000 Black immigrants make up 1.2 percent of all workers.

Educational Services

There are over 200,000 Black immigrant workers in the education industry. The largest group work in K-12 education, while the sector with the largest share of Black immigrant workers is child day care services.

  • Almost 34,000 Black immigrants work in child care services, representing 2.2 percent of employees.
  • There were almost 95,000 black immigrant workers in K-12 education.

Biomedical Sector

Black immigrant workers are also well represented across all biomedical industries, making up larger shares of the workforce in this sector than their overall share of the U.S. population.

  • 8,000 Black immigrant workers make up 1.6 percent of the workforce in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry.
  • 9,000 Black immigrant workers make up 1.5 percent of the workforce in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing.
  • 20,000 Black immigrant workers make up 2.1 percent of the workforce in pharmacies and drug stores.

Access the complete findings on our COVID-19 portal, here.

“One of the reasons Black communities have been hit so hard by COVID-19 is that they have been on the front lines of the response—and that includes the 560,000 Black immigrants working in our healthcare system,” said Mike Bloomberg, co-founder of New American Economy. “While Black immigrants make up just over 1% of the overall population, they represent more than 9% of our health aides and around 4% of our nurses. They are also overrepresented in our schools and child care centers, where more than 200,000 Black immigrants are helping to educate the next generation. And with the food industry facing unprecedented challenges, more than 220,000 Black immigrants are working to keep our country fed. Black immigrants do not often get the attention and appreciation they deserve, but especially at a time when the nation is discussing the need for racial justice, it’s important to recognize that Black immigrants are a critical part of the fabric of American life—and our country is stronger for it.”

New American Economy is updating our Immigrants and COVID-19 Portal every week with the latest data showing how workforce needs are changing and how immigrants are critical to the fight, response, and recovery that we face in the coming months. This week, we are building on previous research looking at the role of Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the frontlines of COVID-19 by examining the role of Black immigrants in essential industries.

Upcoming research will include a more detailed look at gender breakdowns for refugees in healthcare and other essential industries, immigrants in infrastructure and construction-related industries, and internet/broadband access for immigrant households.

Need some data you don’t see? Reach out anytime. 

Jeremy Robbins is the Executive Director of New American Economy.

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