Immigrants’ Importance to Elder and Health Care Sectors

A study published in the June 2019 issue of Health Affairs highlights the important role of immigrants in the U.S. health care sector, and particularly in the elder care sector.

The study notes that immigrants are represented in all aspects of healthcare, from doctors to home health aides.   They are particularly present in elder and long-term care facilities, including in non-medical settings.  It points out that the nation’s elder population is slated to double by 2050, and demand for direct care workers is projected to increase by 34%, or 650,000 more workers, in the next decade.

The study details how immigrants are over-represented, compared to their percentage of the nation’s population, as health care workers, finding that “in 2017 immigrants accounted for 18.2 percent of health care workers and 23.5 percent of formal and nonformal long-term care sector workers. More than one-quarter (27.5 percent) of direct care workers and 30.3 percent of nursing home housekeeping and maintenance workers were immigrants. Although legal noncitizen immigrants accounted for 5.2 percent of the US population, they made up 9.0 percent of direct care workers. Naturalized citizens, 6.8 percent of the US population, accounted for 13.9 percent of direct care workers.”

The study notes further that immigration policies may worsen the shortage of available health care workers.

In light of the current and projected shortage of health care and direct care workers, our finding that immigrants fill a disproportionate share of such jobs suggests that policies curtailing immigration will likely compromise the availability of care for elderly and disabled Americans.

Food for thought in Maine, the nation’s oldest state.