Press Release: Double Disadvantage

First-ever analysis reveals the nation’s undocumented women are paid 57 cents per dollar paid to men, 52 cents per dollar paid to white men, 71 cents per dollar paid to women, and 83 cents per dollar paid to undocumented men

Among states with the most undocumented immigrants, the well-being of undocumented women is much better in California and New York than in Texas and Florida due to policy choices to advance economic participation and health in undocumented communities

(LOS ANGELES, CA) – The Gender Equity Policy Institute (GEPI) released a new report, Double Disadvantage, which in a first-ever analysis finds undocumented women are paid less than all other racial, ethnic, and gender groups across the country. Among states with the largest undocumented immigrant populations, the report also reveals large variations in the rates of poverty and health insurance access among undocumented women.

“Everyone else is paid more than undocumented women when performing the same work. Since the labor market penalizes undocumented women for their immigration status and gender, their well-being is substantially shaped by the extent their home state’s policies either advance or hinder immigrant rights,” said Natalia Vega Varela, Senior Researcher at GEPI and lead author of the report. “This report shines a light on the struggles undocumented women face to provide for themselves and their families. Even after living in this country for years, they can’t get ahead.” 

Undocumented women live in nearly every state, with about 5 million residing across the country. On average, they have lived in the U.S. for 13 years. Full-time undocumented working women earn a median annual income of $34,000, which is $18,000 below the national median. Among women in the United States:

  • 49% of undocumented women lack health insurance, compared with 7.6% of women overall
  • 21.1% of undocumented women live below the poverty line, compared with 14.1% of women overall.

Up to 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, with the largest populations residing in California (2.05 million total and 900,000 women), Texas (2 million total and 950,000 women), Florida (925,000 total and 425,000 women), and New York (625,000 total and 275,000 women). Within these states, women face distinct disparities in pay, poverty rates, and health care access. 

  • New York is the only state where undocumented women and men are paid roughly the same.
  • At 16%, California has the lowest poverty rate among undocumented women while Texas has the highest at 27% followed by Florida and New York with 21%.
  • At 65%, New York has the highest rate of undocumented women with access to health insurance compared to 59% in California, 56% in Florida, and 35% in Texas.
  • Undocumented women in Texas are most likely to be poor or uninsured.

“Undocumented women are essential workers but are denied their humanity and dignity. They suffer because they are exploited while being denied opportunity,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). “GEPI’s report shows how much more we must lift up undocumented women in the fight for worker justice.”

“Hospitality workers like me make the beds, cook the food, and wash the dishes so that millions of travelers from around the world may visit Los Angeles each year. Most of us are immigrants starting new lives with our families,” said Dina Paredes, a member of UNITE HERE Local 11 who lives and works in Los Angeles as a hotel room attendant under temporary protected status. “Documented or not, all are brothers and sisters in our union. By standing together, we have better wages and health care – the building blocks all families need. Women also have an ally to fight back against discrimination and sexual harassment at work.”

“Women like me have suffered in silence for a long time. We all hope to find a good job and support our families but not everyone gets lucky,” said Dulce, an undocumented woman from Mexico now living in Los Angeles. “I stopped working in restaurants because they did not treat me well. My mother taught me about commerce, so I became a street vendor. It’s harder in different ways, like being harassed by the police. I also make less money so it’s a struggle to make ends meet.”

“Undocumented women are doubly disadvantaged. While all undocumented workers face hardships, women are almost entirely excluded from better paid jobs employing undocumented men,” said Nancy L. Cohen, President at GEPI. “The gender pay gap between undocumented women and undocumented men mirrors what we see in America at large. It shows that undocumented women pay a penalty for their gender.”

“Living in this country is a shockingly different and challenging experience for undocumented women who are paid less simply because it’s too easy for employers to get away with exploitation. We shift the balance of power by organizing workers in jobs that employ many undocumented women,” said Alejandra Valles, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents 45,000 janitors, security officers, airport employees, and other property service workers throughout California. “Our goal is to build an equitable and inclusive economy. This starts by enabling all workers to join a union to improve their pay and working conditions but we must also pass laws to empower workers with information about their rights and hold employers accountable.” 

Across the country, the report also finds:

  • 45% of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are women – 66% Latina, 18% Asian and Pacific Islander, 8% white, and 6% Black – but the composition varies widely by state
  • Nearly two in three undocumented women are in the workforce, self-employed or pursuing an education, and nearly half are mothers of 6.3 million school age children of whom at least 5.1 million are American citizens
  • Undocumented women are concentrated in low-wage jobs where women make up the vast majority of the workforce, such as maids and house cleaners, personal care aides, and childcare workers.
Gender Equity Policy Institute (GEPI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing opportunity, fairness, and well-being for all people through research and education that exposes the gender impacts of the policies, processes, and practices of government and business.