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Dual Roles as Workers and Parents May Account for Steeper Decline in Employment during Pandemic for Immigrant Women with School-Age Children
Press Release
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dual Roles as Workers and Parents May Account for Steeper Decline in Employment during Pandemic for Immigrant Women with School-Age Children

WASHINGTON — Fewer than half of all working-age immigrant women in the United States were employed in September, a 7 percentage point swing from their 53 percent employment rate in January before COVID-19-induced job dislocation began, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis shows.

Immigrant women entered the pandemic-induced recession with unemployment rates similar to those of other groups. Yet they have been among the most affected by pandemic-related job losses, seeing their unemployment peak at 18.5 percent before declining to 11.2 percent in September even as jobless rates for immigrant men and U.S.-born men and women never topped 16 percent and fell below 8 percent in September.

A new MPI fact sheet seeks to explain why immigrant women have been hit so hard by the coronavirus-induced recession, which triggered unemployment levels unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The MPI researchers suggest the drop in employment for foreign-born women may be due, in part, to their often-dual roles as workers and parents.

Immigrant and U.S.-born women alike with school-age children (ages 5 to 17) faced a steeper decline in employment than women without such children, and immigrant women were more likely than their U.S.-born peers to have children within this age range (26 percent versus 17 percent). Thus, the decline in immigrant women’s employment may reflect the difficulties they experienced working while supervising their children’s at-home schooling in many parts of the country where schools were operating remotely.

The concentration of immigrant women in certain labor market niches may also explain their stubbornly high unemployment rate. Overall, they were only slightly over-represented in leisure and hospitality—the industry responsible for almost one-third of all U.S. job losses between January and September. But they were concentrated in several leisure and hospitality occupations (such as waitstaff, maids and housekeepers) that saw the largest job losses. As a result, immigrant women working in that industry had a higher unemployment rate in September than did other workers: 28 percent versus under 20 percent.

“Immigrant women represented 7 percent of the labor force before the current recession, and higher shares in many major metropolitan areas. Their absence from the workforce—alongside other groups of newly unemployed workers—may impede overall economic recovery,” the authors write, suggesting that economic recovery efforts that include a focus on improving access to child-care services and job training to move up the ladder within sectors or shift to different industries could be beneficial.

The fact sheet, An Early Readout on the Economic Effects of the COVID-19 Crisis: Immigrant Women Have the Highest Unemployment, can be read here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/early-readout-economic-effects-covid-19-crisis-immigrant-women. It follows an earlier one contrasting the current labor market dislocations with the last recession, in 2008-09.

Access an interactive data tool showing monthly unemployment rates before and during the pandemic by nativity, gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment and industry of employment here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/migration-data-hub/us-unemployment-trends-during-pandemic.

For all MPI research, data and commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/coronavirus.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.