Economic Contributions: Immigrant Californians are building up the fifth largest economy in the world.

Each indicator page features a series of charts, insights and analysis, case studies, resources, and related indicators.

Insights and Analyses

  • While immigrants make significant contributions to the state’s economy, valuing California’s immigrants for more than their economic contributions is key in countering untrue narratives and acknowledging, as well as valuing, their humanity. In 2021, immigrants composed 27% of the state's total population and contributed $51.4 billion to California's state and local taxes, $81.8 billion to federal taxes, and had $354 billion in spending power.

  • CA is the 5th largest economy in the world, and immigrants play a major role in the state’s economic growth. Across the state, in 2021, about 32% of all workers in the labor force were immigrants and 38.9% of entrepreneurs were also immigrants.

  • A 2023 study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that across 248 U.S. metro areas, foreign-born workers accounted for one-quarter of employment growth and three-quarters of growth in business establishments between 2010 and 2019.

  • According to a 2023 report by the American Immigration Council, refugees in California held $20.7 billion in spending power in 2019, the highest of any state.

  • According to the UC Merced Community and Labor Center, employers in California contribute approximately $302 million annually to unemployment insurance on behalf of undocumented workers, even though undocumented workers are ineligible for unemployment benefits. Coalitions like the Safety Net 4 All, comprised of over 120 California organizations, are advocating for unemployment insurance coverage for undocumented workers.

  • A 2020 study by researchers at UCLA showed that extending the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to undocumented taxpayers and their families would have resulted in $2 billion in value added to the California economy and supported the creation of more than 17,000 jobs. Now that pandemic financial relief has ended, Californians are experiencing a rise in food insecurity and working poverty.

  • A 2022 report on immigrant inclusion from the California 100 initiative showed that, in 2019, undocumented immigrants were nearly twice as likely as the U.S.-born population to experience working poverty.

Once migrant farmworkers, five Mexican families are now winery owners and leaders, setting trends in Napa Valley’s wine industry.

After migrating to the U.S., some as guest workers under the Bracero program, Mexican immigrants set their sights on one day owning wineries on the lands that they tended to and harvested. A feature in The Washington Post highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of these families during California’s wine revolution, sharing stories of how these families navigated the harsh working conditions of the agricultural industry and eventually became successful winery owners. These five families have set trends in the wine industry, advocated for improved farmworker labor conditions, and are preparing the next generation to support the family business. Bound together by three themes central to their experience, “heritage, opportunity, and family,” these families have been recognized by the Smithsonian for their work in strengthening and diversifying the wine industry. To learn more about these families and their unique stories read the full article here. Read a profile in Sonoma Magazine highlighting Latina winemakers and their successes and experiences navigating the wine industry here. Read another article in Boom California detailing the unspoken history of the labor of diverse immigrants and Native Americans that contributed to the cultivation of California’s wine industry here.

Photo credit: Marvin Joseph, Washington Post

Community-based planning processes like Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) and California Green Zones can provide immigrant communities with better environmental health conditions, while also contributing to a stronger local economy.

In California, the disproportionate placement of industrial and transportation infrastructures in communities of color – including immigrant communities – have led Black, Brown, and Indigenous residents to experience greater pollution burden and environmental health hazards than white residents. This has often been the result of the exclusion of these communities from planning processes – but some programs are working to change that. The Transformative Climate Communities program, administered by the state’s Strategic Growth Council, is a place-based funding program that seeks to “empower the communities most impacted by pollution to choose their own goals, strategies, and projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution” – and has awarded significant funding to places with large immigrant communities like South Stockton, the Inland Empire, and Barrio Logan in San Diego. A 2024 report by The Greenlining Institute and the USC Equity Research Institute found that TCC was a strong model for funding community-driven climate projects, and called out the program’s strength in catalyzing local collectives between governments, communities, and nonprofit organizations to achieve tangible progress in addressing environmental injustices.

One of the co-sponsors of the legislation that established TCC in 2016 was the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), whose California Green Zones program is another place-based initiative that “uses community-led solutions to transform areas overburdened by pollution.” “Green Zones” where CEJA and their partners have done such work include Fresno, where residents have asked for green spaces, housing, and transit access to replace industrial development in lower-income neighborhoods; the Southern San Joaquin Valley, where residents have formed their own multilingual advocacy organizations in Tulare and Kern Counties; and Los Angeles, where three neighborhoods with significant immigrant populations have been prioritized for improved environmental health standards by city officials because of local advocacy efforts.

To learn more about the TCC program, visit their website here. To learn more about CEJA’s Green Zones initiative, visit their website here. To read the report from The Greenlining Institute and the USC Equity Research Institute, click here.

Photo credit: Environmental Health Coalition


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