How Immigrant Women Contribute to the U.S. Economy

Written by on March 9, 2015 in Demographics, Economics with 1 Comment

4514132610_8bc4d8b7c1_bOn the occasion of International Women’s Day, it is worthwhile to keep in mind the depth and breadth of the contributions that immigrant women workers make to the U.S. economy. More and more, immigrant women are coming to the United States not as the dependent relatives of immigrant men, but as workers. According to the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS), there were 13.1 million immigrant women workers in the country, comprising 7 percent of all U.S workers and spanning virtually every occupation and industry. Unfortunately, a disproportionately large share of immigrant women workers are concentrated in low-wage occupations; providing vital labor—particularly in the service and healthcare sectors—and receiving little in return. Although more than half of immigrant women workers (52 percent) are U.S. citizens, a large portion of the rest are probably unauthorized—and their lack of legal status makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.

Just over half of immigrant women workers come from Latin America (50.3 percent), while just under one-third come from Asian countries (31 percent). More precisely, the top five sending countries of immigrant women workers are:

  • Mexico (24.2 percent of all immigrant women workers)
  • the Philippines (6.2 percent)
  • India (4.5 percent)
  • China (4.4 percent)
  • Vietnam (3.6 percent)

Nearly 60 percent of all immigrant women workers live in five states:

  • California (24.7 percent of all immigrant women workers)
  • New York (11 percent)
  • Texas (9.6 percent)
  • Florida (9.2 percent)
  • New Jersey (4.8 percent)

The top 5 occupations among immigrant working women are:

  • Maids and housekeeping cleaners (6.5 percent of all immigrant women workers)
  • Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides (4 percent)
  • Cashiers (3.8 percent)
  • Registered nurses (3.1 percent)
  • Janitors and building cleaners (2.8 percent)

A large share of immigrant women workers earn very low wages:

  • $12,119 per year and below (25 percent of all immigrant women workers)
  • $12,120 – $20,000 per year (17.0 percent)
  • $20,001 – $30,000 per year (14.4 percent)
  • $30,001 – $40,000 per year (8.7 percent)
  • $40,001 – $60,000 per year (9.9 percent)

There is no denying the economic contributions of immigrant women workers, nor the tremendous economic challenges they face. Many immigrant women are high-powered professionals. But far more labor at the bottom rungs of the occupational ladder; earning poverty-level wages and lacking benefits. International Women’s Day should serve as a reminder that much work remains to be done to achieve equal opportunity and basic dignity for immigrant women in the U.S. labor force.

Photo by Geoff LMV.

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  • Robert Cruder

    Every birth requires public spending for K-12 education, minimal medical care, public services and infrastructure to an estimated $300k beyond the similar amount that a middle-class couple would invest directly. Obviously, those of lesser means expect more to be spent by the public.

    If one fairly counts all of the public expenditures unrelated to offspring, each immigrant with high-school or less education consumes about $20k of benefits beyond taxes. Legal immigrants qualify for additional benefits beyond that.

    It is disingenuous to ignore those expenditures when complaining about low wages for immigrant woman workers. They are not significantly lower than those for uneducated native women and they do bid down the wages that are offered to those native women.

    Those who doubt this should ask why anyone chooses to immigrate, especially illegally. The return must significantly exceed the cost.

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