Hispanic Americans in Healthcare and in Essential Roles

Earlier this year, NAE examined the significant contributions Hispanic Americans, both U.S.-born and born-abroad, make to the United States. That report showed that already in 2017, Hispanic Americans earned more than $1 trillion and paid more than $250 billion in taxes in one year alone. Beyond that, they continue to fill critical workforce gaps in labor-short industries such as agriculture, construction, and healthcare.

Now with the United States undergoing a major health and economic crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a closer look at this this critical population in the United States and how Hispanic Americans are serving on the frontlines as healthcare workers and in supporting roles that keep America functioning.


Hispanics make up a large portion of healthcare workers, with 2.2 million Hispanic healthcare workers nationwide. Of this 2.2 million, almost one-third are foreign-born. The Hispanic American workforce is especially concentrated in a select few fields within the healthcare sector. There are more than 390,000 Hispanic health aides who represent 17.1 percent of the entire U.S. health aide workforce. Of them, more than 180,000 are foreign-born.

Meanwhile, there are also almost 328,000 Hispanic American nurses, making up 8.4 percent of all nurses in the United States. Of them, nearly 83,000 are foreign-born. There are also almost 57,000 Hispanic American physicians and surgeons in the United States, including more than 27,000 Hispanic immigrants.

Hispanic Workers in the U.S. Healthcare Sector

Occupation Number of Hispanic Workers Hispanic Share of Workers Number of Hispanic Immigrant Workers Hispanic Immigrant Share of Workers
Emergency Medical Technicians 21,000 12.6% 2,200 1.3%
Health Aides 390,600 17.1% 180,200 7.9%
Nurses 327,600 8.4% 82,800 2.1%
Physicians and Surgeons 56,700 6.5% 27,000 3.1%
Healthcare Overall 2,224,000 13.0% 722,000 4.2%
Source: 2018 American Community Survey, 1-year sample.

Several key states have significantly higher shares of their healthcare workforces identifying as Hispanic compared to the national average. New Mexico, Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida have the highest concentration of Hispanic healthcare workers, with more than 25 percent of all healthcare workers being Hispanic.

U.S. Food Supply

Hispanic Americans are even more prominent in another essential sector of the U.S economy: the U.S. food supply chain. From farm, to factory, to table more than 1 in 4 workers in the U.S. food supply chain are Hispanic. Overall, there were over 4.5 million Hispanic workers in these industries in 2018, including 2.4 million foreign-born Hispanic workers.

In agriculture, 1 in 3 workers is Hispanic. Overall, there are more than 652,000 Hispanic workers in agriculture, the vast majority of them—nearly 500,000—being foreign-born.

Hispanic workers also account for 1 in 4 workers in food manufacturing industries, food wholesale businesses, and food service establishments.   

Hispanic Workers in the U.S. Food Supply Chain

Industry Number of Hispanic Workers Hispanic Share of Workers Number of Hispanic Immigrant Workers Hispanic Immigrant Share of Workers
Agriculture 652,100 33.0% 499,000 25.2%
Food Manufacturing 500,700 28.8% 327,300 18.9%
Food Wholesale 232,400 26.7% 137,900 15.9%
Food Retail and Groceries 633,600 19.8% 260,000 8.1%
Food Service and Restaurants 2,512,500 25.5% 1,184,100 12.0%
U.S. Food Supply Chain Overall 4,531,300 25.7% 2,408,400 13.7%
Source: 2018 American Community Survey, 1-year Sample.


There are over 2 million Hispanic workers in the U.S. education sector, including more than 720,000 Hispanic immigrant workers. The majority of Hispanic workers in education are concentrated in the K-12 education, with more than 1.2 million Hispanic workers.

There are however significant numbers of Hispanic workers in child care services, where more than 320,000 work. Hispanic workers represent more than 1 in 5 workers in this sector. Meanwhile, a further 424,000 Hispanic American workers work at colleges and universities, including almost 132,000 Hispanic immigrants.

Hispanic Workers in Education

Education Sector Number of Hispanic Workers Hispanic Share of Workers Number of Hispanic Immigrant Workers Hispanic Immigrant Share of Workers
Child Day Care Services 320,500 20.4% 146,500 9.3%
K-12 1,248,300 13.6% 410,400 4.5%
Colleges and Universities 424,300 9.8% 131,900 3.0%
Other Schools and Educational Support Services 100,300 10.9% 32,200 3.5%
Education Sector Overall 2,093,300 13.1% 721,000 4.5%
Source: 2018 American Community Survey, 1-year Sample.

Biomedical Industries

Hispanic workers are also on the frontlines of finding a cure for the novel coronavirus and are also helping shore up America’s supply of medicines and medical supplies. Hispanic Americans are well-represented in all biomedical fields, overall representing more than 10 percent of workers in all three fields we examined.

In 2018, 57,000 Hispanic workers made up 10.6 percent of the workforce in pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industries. There were also 85,000 Hispanic workers who made up 13.6 percent of the workforce in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing. Meanwhile, a further 125,000 Hispanic workers made up 13.7 percent of the workforce at pharmacies and drug stores.

Hispanic Workers in Biomedical Industries

Industry Number of Hispanic Workers Hispanic Share of Workers Number of Hispanic Immigrant Workers Hispanic Immigrant Share of Workers
Pharmaceutical and Medical Manufacturing 56,600 10.6% 23,000 4.3%
Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing 85,000 13.6% 39,300 6.3%
Pharmacies and Drug Stores 125,400 13.7% 29,300 3.2%
Source: 2018 American Community Survey, 1-year Sample.

As the country is doing its best recover from the crisis, Hispanic Americans are there on the frontlines, working hard to contain the pandemic or supporting the functioning of our economy. As healthcare workers and as essential workers, Hispanics are and continue to be a vital part of the United States.

This is part of a series of research briefs looking at immigration in the United States during the time of Covid-19 to learn more, check out our research portal on Immigration and Covid-19. If you have any specific questions about our data, please reach out to us at info@newamericaneconomy.org.

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