The Latina wage gap is worse for immigrant women. (Getty Images)
by Erika L. Sánchez
It’s no secret that Latinas are the hardest hit by the gender wage gap. A recent analysis from the National Partnership for Women and Families showed that Latinas are paid 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in the nation’s top 50 metro areas. Although wage disparities exist at all career levels for Latinas, immigrant women are especially susceptible and are considered the least economically secure population in the United States.
Currently, there are approximately 5.4 million undocumented immigrant women living and working in the United States who must work the lowest-paying jobs because of their immigration status. In 2011, 208,000 Latina women worked in jobs paying below the federal minimum wage compared to 172,000 Latino men.
Research shows that a woman’s average lifetime earnings are more than $434,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35-year working life. This means very difficult financial choices for women of color, who are more likely to be the breadwinners that than their white counterparts.
“When women are not paid enough, it affects their families, particularly the education of their children,” says Claudia Williams, research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
She says that this lack of financial security also means that they are less likely to save for retirement.
Williams believes that immigration reform would improve women’s economic circumstances. If they are subject to abuse, they would also be able to move to another job. Not only are undocumented Latinas underpaid, they must often work in hostile environments. Women in agribusiness, for instance, experience high levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence at work and their undocumented status makes it very difficult for them to challenge these conditions or look for other jobs
Iliana Guadalupe Perez, 25, an independent contractor who helps educate other undocumented immigrants to find her kind of work, says that though her sales and marketing contracting has certain benefits, such as flexibility and a fairly high hourly rate, it’s not what she wants to do in the long run. “This has nothing to do with what I’ve studied,” Perez says. “My degree in math was useless. I couldn’t even get an interview. This is not my ideal situation.” Perez, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education and a Masters in Economics, says her dream job would be working in the U.N. or the World Bank
Another disadvantage is in her line of work, Perez says, is that she’s unable to get tenure, which would result in pay increases over time. Not only that, she points out that undocumented people don’t have the option of insurance, retirement funds, or investment funds.
Perez also feels that immigration reform will significantly improve the financial status of Latinas. “It will give a lot of Latinas the opportunities to use their skills. A lot are educated but are limited to their potential. A Social Security number would allow people to explore new avenues for employment.”
Ann Garcia, an immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, says that the Paycheck Fairness Act and immigration reform would help close the wage gap for Latinas and improve the economy. “When you legalize workers, you offer them citizenship. Taking the worker out of the economic sidelines would cause a rise in productivity and wages that would create a great ripple effect in the economy,” says Garcia.
According to the Center for American Progress, immigration reform that would legalize the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, over 10 years.
Garcia says that American workers and undocumented immigrants would see a huge rise in income and that the boost in wages would be bigger for woman than men. “It would provide improved economic outcomes through increased legal protections, better investments in education and training, higher paying jobs, economic mobility. It would also easier for people to start their own business,” Garcia says. “If we can have economic actors earning more, consuming more, and paying higher taxes, the economy would see a serious amount of growth.”