Highlighting the Economic Contributions of Immigrant Women

In celebration of the International Women’s Day, we shine a light on the many ways that immigrant women in the United States are contributing to the economy and American society.

In 2017, about 23 million immigrant women lived in the United States, making up 7.1 percent of the country’s total population and 51.7 percent of the immigrant population. In the workforce, immigrant women play critical roles as caregivers and service providers in local communities all across the country. Moreover, as entrepreneurs and STEM workers, they have help spur economic growth and innovation.

Using newly available data from the 2017 American Community Survey, we totaled up the incomes and wages of all immigrant women. In 2017 alone, immigrant women in America earned more than $280 billion, which is more than the GDP of several large countries, including Greece, Peru, and New Zealand.

Figure 1: Annual Income of Immigrant Women Compared to GDP of Selected Countries in Billions of USD

Figure 1: Annual Income of Immigrant Women Compared to GDP of Selected Countries in Billions of USD

Immigrant Women in the United States Peru Greece New Zealand
280.0 228.9 218.1 205.9
Sources: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample, International Monetary Fund, 2018.

Sources: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample, International Monetary Fund, 2018.

In the U.S. labor market, we find that immigrant women serve vital roles across sectors, especially in healthcare, education, and service industries. In 2017, they made up one in five nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides, one in eight registered nurses, one in eight preschool and kindergarten teachers, as well as one in five personal care aides. In fact, hundreds of thousands of immigrant women care for seniors, educate children, and tend to the sick in homes, schools, and hospitals across the country, improving the well-being of many more Americans.

Figure 2: Selected Occupations in Healthcare and Education, Number of Immigrant Women Workers

    Figure 2: Selected Occupations in Healthcare and Education, Number of Immigrant Women Workers

    Occupation Number of Immigrant Women Workers
    Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides 441789
    Registered Nurses 417931
    Personal Care Aides 326702
    Elementary and Middle School Teachers 221502
    Postsecondary Teachers 162870
    Source: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample.

    Source: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample.

    We also find that a significant number of immigrant women have started their own businesses, supporting themselves and their families while also creating jobs for other Americans. In 2017, there were 1.2 million female immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States. This means that 10 percent of employed immigrant women ran their own business. Female immigrant entrepreneurs are particularly active on Main Streets across the country: More than 65,000 immigrant women ran their own restaurants and food service businesses, while more than 55,000 owned beauty salons and another 50,000 had their own nail salons.

    Figure 3: Immigrant Women-Owned Businesses by Type

      Figure 3: Immigrant Women-Owned Businesses by Type

      Type of Business Number of Immigrant-Owned Businesses
      Restaurants and Food Services 65276
      Beauty Salons 55072
      Nail Salons and Other Personal Care Services 50707
      Source: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample

      Source: 2017 American Community Survey, 1-Year Sample

      As the demand for high-skilled talents surges in the U.S. labor market, immigrant women are also helping fill critical gaps. About one in three immigrant women had a bachelor’s degree or higher; and among them, one in eight worked in STEM occupations. These highly educated immigrant women are making significant contributions to America’s healthcare, higher education, and tech sectors. More than 455,000 high-skilled immigrant women worked in hospitals, almost 257,000 in higher education, 165,000 at computer systems design companies, and another 44,000 in pharmaceutics and medicine manufacturing.

      Looking at the demographic characteristics of immigrant women, we find that the majority of them, more than 71 percent, spoke English relatively well or better, making it easier for them to integrate into American society. Meanwhile, more than half of immigrant women have become naturalized citizens, including 11.4 million who are eligible to vote. This is a notable increase given that 10 years ago, in 2009 there were only 8.8 million voting-eligible immigrant women.  

      The industries that are helped the most by immigrant women—namely healthcare, education, and every day general services—directly affect the lives and well-being of all Americans. Their work and earnings allow them to expand the U.S. economy at a scale equal to entire countries. In short, it is clear that immigrant women form an essential and indispensable part of the American workforce, economy, and community-at-large.

      About Us

      New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…