Median Hourly Wage: Like all Californians, immigrant families also need fair wages that can support the rising cost of living.

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

Insights and Analyses

  • Wage disparities persist among California’s workers. In 2021, the median hourly wage for California's immigrant workers was lower at $24, compared to U.S.-born workers at $30. 
  • Wage inequities grow wider for immigrants depending on their immigration status. Across the state, in 2021, the median hourly wage for naturalized immigrants was $28, compared to $24 for lawful residents, and $16 for undocumented immigrants.
  • Structural inequities and discrimination, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, have disproportionately affected the unemployment rates of same-sex couples and the broader LGBTQ community. Same-sex couples generally have higher unemployment rates compared to opposite-sex couples. In addition, a 2021 report showed that a larger share (56%) of LGBT adults reported that they or someone in their household experienced job loss related to COVID-19, compared to non-LGBT adults (44%). 
  • A study by the Community and Labor Center at the University of California Merced analyzed the impact of the pandemic on employment between February and April 2020 across California and showed that the job loss rate was highest among Black women at 26%, followed by nearly 26% among Latinas, and about 25% among Asian men. Across different variables, the unemployment rate for women exceeded that of men. For example, among non-citizens in California, disparities in job loss were highest for women, at a rate of 30%. 
  • Across the U.S., between January and September 2020, the labor force participation for immigrant women decreased. These figures highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on immigrant women that can be attributed, at least in part, to women’s dual roles as mothers and workers, as many experienced challenges working and caring for children when schools turned to remote learning. Due to the fact that immigrant women were slightly over-represented in the leisure and hospitality industry, they experienced significant job losses during the pandemic along with other workers within the industry. Further, another study found that a higher share of women of color reported employment income loss. 
  • Estimates show that poverty in California is high when accounting for cost of living and family needs and resources. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), in 2019, 4.6% of California families had less than half the necessary resources to meet their basic needs.

Though there have been some recent policy changes to protect California’s agricultural workers, there is still more work to be done to ensure this essential workforce is given the same labor protections as other industries.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, agricultural workers were excluded from wage protections and overtime compensation requirements that were in place for workers in other industries. This meant that farms were not required to pay overtime to workers until they worked over 10 hours in a workday or 60 hours a week, unlike other industries where overtime is paid after 8 hours in a workday or 40 hours a week. In 2016, advocates like CAUSE supported the passage and signing of AB 1066, a bill to include agricultural workers in existing California labor law that implements protections for working hours, standard meal periods, and  overtime pay – benefits similar to what workers in other industries receive. As a result of this legislation, California became the first state to require overtime be paid to farm workers who work beyond an 8-hour day.

This policy change was a win in the fight toward addressing worker exploitation. However, much work remains to be done – a call answered by CAUSE, the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), and other immigrant-serving organizations in the Central Coast region. Since 2021, CAUSE and MICOP have supported a surge of advocacy by farmworkers striking for a living wage through the Alianza Campesina coalition, even as agricultural owners increase their usage of the H-2A visa program to expand the agricultural workforce. CAUSE has also worked to ensure food safety standards and adequate housing for H-2A workers, who have their housing, food, transportation, and immigration status controlled by their employer when they are working in the United States. To ensure that farmworkers have access to public resources and know their labor rights, CAUSE also recently helped to open the Farmworker Resource Program in Santa Barbara County.

These rights include not only increased wages and benefits, but protection from environmental hazards as well. The recent increase in wildfires across the state combined with the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that there is an urgent need for further policies to expand farmworker protections. The largely immigrant farmworkers were considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning they could not shelter-in-place to protect themselves in the early months of the pandemic. Many farmworkers in the Central Coast are undocumented immigrants, and therefore were ineligible to receive federal COVID-19 relief stimulus checks. Although California created a fund for stimulus-excluded immigrants, the fund only covered roughly one in four of the state’s undocumented workforce. A 2020 journal article co-authored by CAUSE’s Lucas Zucker found that farmworkers in the Central Coast were made to continue working outdoors even as one of the largest-ever wildfires in California history raged in the region in 2017, and many did not even receive masks to protect themselves from smoke exposure. There were also no Spanish-language notifications of the severity of the wildfire and smoke at the time, but efforts by CAUSE have since made this vital information available to Spanish-speaking farmworkers.

Photo credit: Andrew Nixon, Capital Public Radio

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