by Graphic provided by the Gender Equity Policy Institute

There are nearly 1 million undocumented immigrant women in California, yet a new report shows they experience the largest gender wage gap among all workers. 

The Gender Equity Policy Institute (GEPI) found that 62 percent of undocumented women in California are in the labor force, earning 49 cents to every $1 earned by White men. According to Associate Professor of Political Science at CSUB and senior advisor to GEPI, Ivy A.M. Cargile, “Immigration is a gendered process that puts women in precarious situations”.

“Immigrant women who are undocumented are well aware of their vulnerable status in the U.S., but they also realize that opportunities for them are better here. Compared to their male counterparts, they become more attached to the idea of remaining in the U.S. Still, as the Institute’s report makes clear, things are not easy for them,” Cargile said.

The report, Undocumented & Essential: A Profile of Undocumented Women in California, analyzes the barriers that nearly one million undocumented California women face in their efforts to access economic opportunity.

Between 10.8 million and 11.2 million immigrants who are undocumented live in the United States, according to estimates by the Institute. More live in California— approximately 2.2 million—than in any other state, and the poverty rate for women is 20.9 percent. 

The industries in which they work are critical to the success and growth of the state’s $3.4 trillion economy. According to the report, undocumented women face significant barriers in their efforts to access economic opportunity—barriers that are higher than those encountered by undocumented men. 

Among their findings, GEPI highlights that undocumented women are paid less than other Californians for similar work and have high poverty rates, low rates of home ownership, and low rates of health insurance. More than one-third, or 34 percent of undocumented women have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty line. 

According to the report, seven in ten of whom are between the ages of 25 and 49—are in their prime work, wealth building, and family formation years. Almost two in three are in the labor force, and among mothers with children under 18 in the household, 53 percent are in the labor force. 

The median income of women working in the ten most common occupations is $22,337, roughly $3,500 below the poverty threshold for a family of four. Only 28 percent of undocumented women live in homes they or a family member owns; 71 percent of undocumented women are renters.

In California, 55 percent of undocumented women in California have health insurance, a rate 41 percent lower than that for California women overall.

“Too often, immigrant women are rendered invisible in our immigration debate. Forty-five percent of undocumented people in the United States are women. But when the media or politicians discuss America’s immigration challenges, the immigrants they talk about tend to be men. Undocumented women have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic as farmworkers, caregivers, and other essential workers. It’s time we pay attention to their unique experiences,” said Nancy L. Cohen, president of GEPI.

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