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Unemployment Falls as Immigrants Hit Benchmark

The nation's unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in March, the lowest level since 2000, and employers added 211,000 jobs to their payrolls. Economists say growth in service and construction may explain why the unemployment rate for immigrants is lower than that of native-born Americans.

The Labor Department reported strong job gains in various areas last month, ranging from bars and restaurants to hospitals and professional service firms. Job growth was especially solid in the service and construction sectors.

The recent numbers reflect the first time immigrants have a lower unemployment rate than do native-born Americans.

Harry Holzer thinks a factor in the change may be the immigrants themselves. Many are under more financial pressure than native-born Americans and are more willing to work less-desirable jobs. Holzer is a professor at Georgetown University who focuses on low-wage workers.

Usually, people with less education have higher unemployment rates. And -- generally -- immigrants have less education than native-born Americans. But, Holzer says, they are finding more work by focusing on a growing number of unskilled jobs

"The immigrants overcome their lower education levels by targeting sectors where education isn't that important. And there is very strong demand at both the top and the bottom of the U.S. labor market right now."

Labor Department employees compiled the data by calling 60,000 households. In the interviews, they did not ask whether the immigrants were here legally or not.

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Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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