Employment: Immigrant workers comprise a large share of California’s workforce.

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

Insights and Analyses

  • In 2019, immigrants made up 33% of the entire labor force in California even though they only comprised about 27% of the state’s population. Participation in the labor force among immigrants may be even higher, as census data undercounts immigrants who work in the informal sector. 
  • Across California, in 2021, data showed that about 73% of immigrants were employed.
  • Although California has relied on immigrants to supply a steadily growing workforce, immigrant workers continue to experience low wages. As of 2021, the median hourly wage for immigrants was $24 in California, compared to $30 for U.S.-born workers—with undocumented immigrants, in particular, having the lowest median wage at $16.
  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020, many businesses have closed. A 2020 report estimated that closures of businesses and localities due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted about 43% of California workers who were at high risk of unemployment. This unemployment burden disproportionately impacted young adults, Latinos, and workers employed in restaurants, hotels, personal care, and janitorial jobs. Further, these business closures primarily burdened low-income workers, people of color as well as their children, and immigrants, especially those excluded from federal aid.
  • A UCLA study using 2018 current population survey data showed that across the state, about 79% of undocumented workers were employed in sectors categorized as essential by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Data from 2019 showed that close to 80% of undocumented workers were working in occupations that were later considered essential and/or high risk during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Data from the UCLA report also shows that during the early months of the pandemic, undocumented immigrants, as compared to other racial and ethnic groups, had the highest unemployment rates across the U.S., California, and Los Angeles County.
  • Immigrant women were also disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Between April 2020 and June 2021, immigrant women, compared to all U.S-born workers and immigrant workers, consistently had the highest unemployment rates. The rate of unemployment for immigrant women reached a peak in May 2020 at nearly 19%. As of June 2022, the rate was approximately 4%.
  • Immigrants made up nearly 39% percent of all entrepreneurs in California, while comprising about 27% of the total population in 2019, according to estimates by New American Economy.
  • In 2019, 13.1% of immigrant workers in California were classified as self-employed—a rate higher than the 10.8% of self-employed U.S.-born workers.
  • Estimates by the American Immigration Council highlight that in 2019, there were over 829,000 immigrant entrepreneurs in California.
  • The American Immigration Council estimated that in 2018, among all business owners in California, 38% were immigrants. Further, at least one-third of business owners in the following metro areas were immigrants: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (53%); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (46%); Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville (45%); San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont (41%); Riverside-San Bernardino (38%); and San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos (35%).

La Luz Center in Sonoma County provides and connects immigrant and farm laborer families with an array of support services including economic, legal, health, and emergency-aid services.

La Luz Center Family Services advocates provide community members with direct emergency relief and help families apply for social services and benefits. The Center also helps individuals and families access other medical, legal, and health services offered in the region. Their rapid response work has included helping immigrant families who face ongoing immigrant deportation threats as well as providing critical support to farm laborer families affected by fires. For example, La Luz stepped in to help families affected by the 2017 Tubbs fires which devastated both Napa and Sonoma Counties, places that are home to thousands of undocumented immigrant families who primarily work in the local wine and farming economy. During the fires, many families could not afford to leave their homes and were left with no choice but to stay behind; La Luz delivered hot meals and provided other emergency-aid services.

As a well-established organization, La Luz was able to pivot to immigrant-focused COVID-19 pandemic assistance, underscoring the importance of ongoing long-term support to immigrant communities in more rural communities. For example, La Luz’s Promotoras and Luchadoras provided culturally relevant information, masks, and helped set up vaccination clinics. The organization also stepped in to provide rental assistance and worked to help address the digital divide for families who needed computers and wifi, as well as providing support to market owners and small immigrant businesses. La Luz’s crisis fund extended to connect immigrants with a range of COVID-19-related benefits including funds for sick leave, relief payments, small business loans, and information on testing sites.

La Luz has been around for 30 years, and as former executive director Juan Hernandez said in an interview in The Nation, “People trust us….They know that LL will be here tomorrow if they need it.” To read The Nation’s full article, “No Sanctuary in Fire-Stricken California’s Immigrant Communities,” click here. To find out more about La Luz Center’s work, click here. Read their 2021 annual report here.

Photo Credit: Cornerstone Cellars

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