Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Are Essential to America’s Recovery, New Report Shows
Press Release

RELEASE: Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Are Essential to America’s Recovery, New Report Shows

Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress highlights the important contributions of 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the country today, including the work of an estimated 5 million undocumented essential workers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic and keep the country moving.

An estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants are helping to lift up major sectors of the workforce, 5 million of whom are serving alongside their fellow Americans on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic response as farmworkers, construction laborers, custodial staff, home health or personal care aides, and more.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Undocumented immigrants make up approximately 3.2 percent of the U.S. population, but 4.4 percent of the country’s workforce.
  • There are more than 7 million undocumented immigrants working in the United States.
  • In 41 states and Washington, D.C., there are more than 10,000 undocumented workers, and in 16 states that total is greater than 100,000.
  • In every state, undocumented immigrants make up a larger share of the workforce than they do the total population.
    • California and Texas are home to the largest undocumented workforce, with 1.4 million and 1.2 million undocumented workers, respectively.
  • More than 1.4 million undocumented immigrants work in construction, accounting for 13 percent of all construction workers.
  • Nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants work in accommodation and food services, approximately 8.4 percent of all workers in the industry.
  • 710,000 undocumented workers make up 10 percent of the administrative and support and waste management industries, and another 489,000 undocumented workers in nonpublic administration services are also overrepresented in the field.
  • Approximately 25 percent of workers in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations are undocumented—although this is likely an undercount—as are 16 percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations.
  • 15 percent of workers in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations are undocumented.
  • 7 percent of workers in food preparation and serving-related occupations are undocumented.
  • 7 percent of workers in production occupations are undocumented.
  • 6 percent of workers in transportation and material moving occupations are undocumented.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 landscaping workers, maids or housekeepers, and construction laborers are undocumented immigrants.
  • Nearly 30 percent of agricultural workers or painters are undocumented.

Key findings of undocumented immigrants on the front lines of the response to the pandemic include:

  • 5 million—nearly 3 in 4 undocumented immigrants in the workforce—are considered essential workers according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s latest guidance.
  • An estimated 1.7 million work in the nation’s food supply chain—from 358,000 farmworkers and food processors to 154,000 working in supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores.
  • Nearly one-quarter of a million—236,000—undocumented immigrants are working as health care providers, including:
    • 15,000 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses
    • 19,000 lab and diagnostic technicians
    • 139,000 home health aides, nursing assistants, and personal care aides
  • Another 188,000 undocumented immigrants are working in health care settings as custodians, food servers, and administrative workers to keep hospitals, nursing homes, and labs functioning.

Beyond their presence in the workforce, undocumented workers make major contributions to the U.S. economy through taxes they pay annually. Key findings include:

  • Undocumented workers and their households pay $79.7 billion in federal tax contributions and $41 billion in state and local tax contributions.
  • These households hold $314.9 billion in spending power.
  • Undocumented immigrants own 1.6 million homes, paying $20.6 billion in mortgage payments each year, while other undocumented workers pay $49.1 billion in rental payments annually.
  • On top of their federal tax contributions, undocumented workers also buoy the social safety net; their employers annually contribute payroll taxes totaling $17 billion for Social Security and $4 billion for Medicare, for which undocumented immigrants are ineligible.

Because of the critical role undocumented immigrants play contributing to the American economy, the report recommends that the Biden administration and Congress provide them with a path to legal status—both out of recognition for the work they have done and the sacrifices they have already made, and because of the important role they will play in helping to fight the pandemic in the months ahead and in rebuilding the country and our economy.

Providing permanent legal protections would increase earnings and productivity for undocumented workers, eventually leading to increased tax contributions and local spending, along with increasing job creation, wages for U.S.-born workers, and gross domestic product.

“As our country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, we have come to realize so many people across the United States work to keep us all safe and healthy, including 5 million undocumented immigrants,” says Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, associate director for research on the Immigration Policy team at CAP. “To ensure a fair and equitable recovery, these undocumented workers and their families must be protected.”

Read the report: “Protecting Undocumented Workers on the Pandemic’s Front Lines: Immigrants Are Essential to America’s Recovery” by Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

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For more information or to speak with and expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at [email protected].