RELEASE: New Column Details the Profile of Immigrant Women in the Workforce

Washington, D.C. — Immigrant women have long been the backbones of their families, their communities, and America’s overall prosperity. As an integral part of U.S. society and as the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect women in the workforce, future policy and economic recovery legislation must consider the contributions and needs of all immigrant women. This is the main conclusion of a column released today by the Center for American Progress in partnership with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), amid the celebration of Women’s History Month.

The average immigrant woman has lived in the United States since 1996, and the average undocumented immigrant woman has lived in the country since 2005. Among immigrant women, the column highlights the stories of Teresa, María Helena, Marlyn, and Suk, who are all a critical part of the workforce combating the ongoing pandemic, providing for their families, and contributing to the U.S. economy despite facing significant hurdles.

Key findings of the column include:

  • An estimated 12.3 million immigrant women, including 2.5 million undocumented women, are members of the workforce. Together, they comprise 16.3 percent of all employed women in the United States.
  • The top five industries for immigrant women in the workforce are health care and social assistance; accommodation and food services; educational services; retail trade; and manufacturing.
  • Immigrant women are most likely to work as office and administrative support staff; sales and related workers; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance staff; health care practitioners; and health care support staff.
  • One-third (33.6 percent) of immigrant mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families either as single working mothers or as married women who earn as much or more than their husbands. This number jumps to 36.3 percent for Latina immigrant mothers.
  • More than half (56.4 percent) of immigrant mothers are primary or co-breadwinners, which includes breadwinning mothers and married mothers bringing home at least one-quarter of their family’s earnings.

Immigrant women have also been crucial in keeping the country safe and running as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Critical findings include:

  • Immigrant women make up 15 percent of all women working in critical infrastructure industries such as food and agriculture, health care and public health, education, and critical manufacturing.
  • In the health care industry, immigrant women fill a range of occupations, from hospital support staff to nurses and doctors.
  • An estimated 2.7 million immigrant women work as health care providers or in health-related setting, including 740,000 health care practitioners and 277,000 health technologists and technicians.
  • An estimated 451,000 immigrant women—including 195,000 undocumented women—are cooks and food preparation workers.
  • An estimated 128,000 immigrant women are agricultural workers, many of whom have continued this work with minimal access to workplace protections and personal protective equipment.
  • More than 358,000 immigrant women are preschool through secondary school teachers and special education teachers.
  • An estimated 1.9 million immigrant women, including 523,000 undocumented women, are part of the care workforce. This includes 504,000 immigrant women working as home health and personal care aides.

“For years, immigrant women have made vital contributions to the U.S. economy, and they and their families are deeply rooted in American society,” says Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. “As women—particularly women of color—have been disproportionately affected by the twin health and economic crises, a robust and equitable economic recovery must center them and their families. Throughout the year, but especially during Women’s History Month, their contributions and sacrifices must not go unrecognized.”

“These findings tell us what we, as a union, have known all along. Immigrant women—regardless of where they come from— are essential to America. They are of every race and background, keeping America fed, clean, safe, and healthy,” says Rocío Sáenz, executive vice president of SEIU International. “That’s why SEIU members and essential workers are demanding: Respect us, protect us, and pay us. That includes immigrant workers having access to COVID-19 relief and a road map to citizenship, along with $15 an hour and the right to join a union. Providing a road map to citizenship to essential workers is a necessary part of COVID-19 recovery. We can’t beat the virus or have a true economic recovery when millions of essential workers and their families are left out. Our health and well-being depend on one another’s.”

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