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Record-breaking high temperatures have made headlines across the globe this summer, drawing attention to one of the most salient and alarming effects of climate change. As global average temperatures rise, extreme high temperatures are expected to increase at an even more rapid rate. The week of July 3rd 2023 contained two of the hottest days in recorded history, with millions of Americans exposed to dangerously high temperatures representing a dramatic threat to human health and the economy.
Immigrant workers play an essential role in the American economy, helping to fill current labor shortages and further the country’s economic progress. At 17.4% of the workforce, immigrants strengthen the economy by working in high-demand industries and participating in the labor force at high rates. Immigrant workers’ contributions are further bolstered when they have access to union representation, which provides stable employment, higher earnings, better benefits, and safer workplaces to both immigrant and native-born workers alike. The United States can improve the lives of all workers by removing barriers that prevent both immigrant and non-immigrant workers from gaining union representation.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought renewed attention to the role of immigrants in the U.S. economy. Immigrants disproportionately work in the jobs labeled “essential” during the spring lockdowns in 2020, placing many of them on the front lines of the crisis. While initially immigrants were more negatively impacted by the coronavirus recession, immigrants are once again poised to play a vital role in the economic recovery and future economic growth. Their spending power, relative youth, high levels of involvement in STEM fields, and high rates of entrepreneurship make them key contributors to our economy.

The COVID outbreak caused the fastest and one of the deepest economic collapses in modern U.S. history, but the pain has not been spread equally across the economy. The restaurant industry and its workers have been hit especially hard with 2.5 million jobs lost since February—one in four of the 10 million jobs lost in the overall economy. If the economy as a whole had suffered the same level of job losses as the restaurant industry, that would translate into 30 million jobs lost instead of the 10 million it has lost since February. More than 110,000 restaurants—about one in six—have closed permanently or long term. The situation threatens to worsen as new U.S. COVID cases exceed 1.5 million each week.

The reason for this collapse is clear: science has shown that COVID can be spread by tiny particles that are expelled into the air when people talk or even breathe. These aerosols can remain in an enclosed area like a restaurant for a long time. For this reason, indoor dining is an especially risky activity, which has led to a sharp decline in demand for indoor dining by consumers as well as orders by state and local governments to limit or even ban it. The situation is likely to deteriorate this winter as COVID cases surge, Americans fear dining out, state and local regulations increase and weather curtails outdoor dining.

Restaurants are especially vulnerable because they are more likely to be small businesses. Small businesses typically lack the cash reserves and access to credit that larger businesses have, which makes going over a year with only a fraction of normal revenue untenable for many. The collapse in restaurant employment disproportionately affects women and Latinos while immigrant restaurant owners are especially vulnerable. Many small, independently owned restaurants will not survive without further relief. Americans will eventually begin to eat out again, but the question is whether the restaurants they eat in will be owned by large chains or small-business owners.

View the report here