On International Women’s Day, We Celebrate the Important Contributions of Immigrant Women in the American Workforce

On International Women’s Day, We Celebrate the Important Contributions of Immigrant Women in the American Workforce

By Anna Shepperson | Immigration Impact

Since its conception in 1977, International Women’s Day has evolved into a global celebration highlighting women’s achievements and the challenges they face. The holiday’s origins can be traced back to the women’s suffrage and labor movements in the early 20th century – predominantly those led by women in the workforce. 

Along with U.S.-born women, female immigrants play an integral role in American society. As of 2022, there were 23.6 million immigrant women in the United States, making up 7.1% of the total population and 7.6% of the labor force. Their stories are intertwined with the ongoing struggle for gender equality and social justice – a narrative woven into the fabric of this international holiday. 

Honoring Immigrant Women Working in Labor-Intensive Jobs 

Millions of immigrant women hold crucial positions in the workforce today, fulfilling essential roles that are fundamental to American daily life. In 2022, 66.4% of immigrant women, or 8.6 million people, worked in jobs that did not require a bachelor’s degree, providing care and services much needed by community members.  

Immigrant women workers without bachelor’s degrees concentrate in professions in the following areas: restaurants and food services (10.1%), services to buildings (4.9%), hospitals (4.0%), elementary and secondary schools (3.9%), home health services (3.4%), and private households (3.4%).  

Some of these professions have astonishing representation of immigrant women. For example, 57.3% of manicurists and pedicurists are immigrant women, as are 44.6% of maids and housekeeping cleaners, 37.2% of agricultural sorters and graders, and 35.4% of home health aides.  

Immigrant Women in Healthcare 

Immigrant women also make significant contributions to several key industries including healthcare. More than one in five immigrant women work in health care and social assistance, which had the most job openings among all U.S. industries in 2023, according to data from Lightcast Technologies. 

Among the 2.8 million immigrant women working in this field, more than one out of seven are registered nurses – an occupation that is projected to grow over the next ten years and is already seeing shortages in available workers. 

Immigrant Women in STEM 

Apart from home health and personal care aides, software developers are projected to have the largest increase in the number of new jobs in the next ten years. About one-fifth of immigrant women working in STEM are software developers – providing a necessary skillset in a growing field. 

Overall, 810,400 immigrant women work in STEM occupations, making up 6.3% of the country’s STEM workforce. Their expertise in STEM fields not only fuels innovation but stimulates job creation and economic growth 

Underemployment and Inequalities 

Immigrant women play an increasingly important role in the STEM field and other high-skilled jobs, but many college-educated immigrant women struggle to find jobs that will utilize their professional training and experience.  

Among immigrant women with college degrees, 32.9% work in jobs that do not require such degrees, compared with 27.5% of U.S.-born women with the same credentials. The underemployment of immigrant women has significantly undermined their earning potential. 

In addition, despite their significant contributions to various industries and occupations, immigrant women earn less than other demographic groups. The median annual wage of immigrant women is $35,000, lower than the median wage of U.S.-born men ($50,000), immigrant men ($48,000), and U.S.-born women ($40,000). Previous studies have identified several factors this wage gap can be attributable to, including education level, race and ethnicity, English proficiency, and immigration status. 

The diverse roles that immigrant women play underscore their vitality to the U.S. economy and society as a whole. From serving in essential roles in healthcare, education, and hospitality to making strides in STEM fields and beyond, immigrant women enrich every facet of our communities. Discrepancies in wages are just one piece of evidence for the work that still needs to be done to achieve equitable access to opportunities for growth and economic prosperity for women of all backgrounds. 

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