The Occupational Risk of Being Illegal: Legal Status and Job Hazard among Mexican and Central American Immigrants

Matthew Hall, Cornell University
Emily Greenman, Pennsylvania State University

Considerable research and widespread cultural narratives imply that undocumented immigrant workers are concentrated in the most dangerous, hazardous, and otherwise unappealing jobs in U.S. labor markets. Owing largely to data limitations, little empirical work has addressed this topic. Using data from the 2004 and 2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we impute legal status for Mexican and Central American immigrants and link their occupations with BLS data on occupational fatalities and occupational hazard data from the Department of Labor to explore differentials in a variety of measures of occupational risk. Initial results indicate that undocumented workers face heightened exposure to occupational hazard, but are less exposed to some of the potentially most dangerous occupations than native workers. Ongoing work considers the roles of human capital and immigrant acculturation in generating these differences, and discusses the implications for immigrant well-being and theoretical models of labor market segmentation.

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Presented in Poster Session 3