Industries and Occupations: Immigrants significantly contribute to the state’s industries, yet the jobs they work in tend to have less stability and opportunities for growth.

Insights and Analyses

  • In 2018, 17% of California's immigrants were employed in the retail trade industry, 13% in the other services (except public administration) industry, and 9% in the health services industry.
  • Statewide, in 2018, 21% undocumented workers were employed in the retail trade industry, 15% in the agriculture industry, and 14% in the construction industry. In addition, 13% of the state's undocumented workers were employed in building and grounds cleaning/maintenance occupations, 13% in construction trades occupations, and 11% in food preparation and serving occupations.
  • Valuing immigrant labor is critical, as high proportions of immigrants work in essential industries, risking their exposure to COVID-19, yet helping our world propel forward amidst this pandemic. Across California, in 2018, nearly 40% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander immigrants, nearly 30% of Asian American immigrants, and 24% of Latino immigrants were employed in essential sectors that were high risk.  
  • Immigrants constitute a significant share of workers playing a critical role in the food supply chain. Across the U.S. immigrants represented 22% of workers in the U.S. food industry in 2018. Moreover, in California alone, immigrants comprised 69% of agricultural workers. 
  • Immigrant healthcare workers are also playing a critical role in battling this pandemic, many of whom are bilingual and can reach vulnerable communities who may have limited English proficiency. In California, immigrants composed nearly 32% of all healthcare workers in 2018. Moreover, nearly 80% of immigrant healthcare workers in California were bilingual.

Healthy Nail Salon Program (HNSRP), a statewide health and safety recognition program for nail salons, is a mechanism to improve working conditions in an industry largely owned and serviced by Asian immigrant and refugee workers.

In 2005, Asian Health Services, an Oakland-based community clinic, established the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative after the organization’s community health workers noticed that nail salon workers, who are primarily low-income immigrant women, were suffering from a number of job-related health issues. Nail salon workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals and inadequate ventilation systems for eight to ten hours every workday, leading to adverse health issues (respiratory issues, chronic pains, miscarriages, etc.). In 2016, the Collaborative advocated for the Healthy Nail Salon Act (AB-2125, 2016), which created the certification program recognizing nail salons that have adopted best practices to prioritize worker health, like the installation of mechanical ventilation and utilization of safer products. Currently, there are 200 Certified Healthy Nail Salons.  To learn more about the Collaborative and the nail salon industry, read here. To learn more about the nail salon industry nationwide, read a study from the UCLA Labor Center in partnership with the Collaborative here.

Photo credit: Joanne Kim, Capital & Main

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