• ISSUE BRIEF

    Last updated: February 14, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: Demographics and Socioeconomic Status

How many undocumented immigrants live in the United States?

As of March 2010, an estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants were living in the United States, a figure equivalent to 3.7% of the nation’s population.1 This estimate includes persons who entered the U.S. without valid documents and persons who are living outside the terms of their entry visas. This estimate does not include U.S. citizens or legal residents who are members of “mixed-status” families that include undocumented immigrants.

The size of the undocumented immigrant population has become relatively stable in recent years. From 2000 to 2007 the estimated number of undocumented immigrants in the US had steadily increased from 8.4 million to 12.0 million, then declined slightly, reaching its current level by 2009. The decline in new immigration has been attributed to a variety of factors, including tighter border control, increased deportations, and decreased opportunities for employment due to the recession.2,3

The undocumented immigrant population in the US is disproportionately male. Men between the ages of 18 and 39 make up 35% of the undocumented immigrant population in the US, compared with 14% of the US-born population and 18% of the legal immigrant population. Compared with the US-born population, the undocumented immigrant population includes few older people and children, excluding citizens or legal residents who are members of mixed-status families.

Where do undocumented immigrants live?

Undocumented immigrants live in every state and are concentrated in a relatively small number of states, reflecting the availability of work and social networks. About half of this population lives in one of four states: California, Texas, Florida or New York. Nearly a quarter (23%) lives in California alone. Some states, such as Georgia and North Carolina, where relatively few undocumented immigrants resided two decades ago, have seen significant increases in the number of undocumented immigrant residents in recent years.4 

Where are undocumented immigrants from?

Most (80%) of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. emigrated from Latin American countries.5 In 2007, the leading countries of birth for undocumented immigrants were Mexico (6,980,000), El Salvador (540,000), Guatemala (500,000), the Philippines (290,000) and China (290,000).6

Why do undocumented immigrants come to the U.S.?

Most undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. to find work.7 Among undocumented immigrants who are men aged 18-64, 98% were part of the paid work force in 2008. Undocumented immigrants make up 25% of farm workers, 19% of building, grounds-keeping, and maintenance workers, 17% of construction workers, and 12% of food preparation and service workers and make up 5.2% of the paid work force in the U.S.8 A smaller percentage (58%) of female undocumented immigrants in the same age range participate in the paid work force. This discrepancy may reflect women’s unpaid role in childcare, as many undocumented immigrants have children at home.9

What is the household income of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.?

Undocumented immigrants have lower median household incomes than legal immigrants and U.S.-born citizens, despite having more workers per household on average (1.75) than U.S.-born households (1.23).10 In 2007, the median annual household income of undocumented immigrants was $36,000, compared with $50,000 for people born in the U.S. The median household income of undocumented immigrants remains largely unchanged even after they have been in the U.S. for more than a decade.11

What is the typical household structure for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.?

The majority of undocumented immigrants live with their families. Nearly half of undocumented immigrant households (47%) consist of a couple with children, while 15% consist of couples without children. Single-person households make up 13% of undocumented immigrant households.12

The establishment of family households by undocumented immigrants is reflected in the fact that by 2008, 73% of children of undocumented immigrants were U.S. citizens by birth. From 2004 to 2008, the number of U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants increased from 2.7 million to 4 million. Some mixed-status families include both U.S.-born children and undocumented immigrant children. From 2004 to 2008, the number of children who are undocumented immigrants themselves remained at roughly 1.5 million and, according to some estimates, may have even declined slightly since 2005, reflecting the general trend toward declining new immigration and the establishment of households in which most children are born in the U.S.13

What is the education level of undocumented immigrants?

Undocumented immigrants have lower levels of education than U.S. born residents in the same age range. Among all undocumented immigrants ages 25-64, 47% have not completed high school (compared with 8% of U.S. born adults in the same age range) and of these, more than half (29% of total) have less than a ninth grade education.

Among adults age 25-64, 29% of undocumented immigrants have less than a 9th grade education compared with only 2% among U.S. born adults in this age cohort. A total of 47% of undocumented immigrants age 25-64 have less than a high school education, compared with only 8% among US-born population adults in this age cohort (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Education Levels Among Undocumented Immigrants and U.S. Born Citizens


Figure 1 source

References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. 1. Passel, Jeffrey S. Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010. Pew Hispanic Center, February 2011. Estimates are based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Surveys, March 2010 Supplement. The Pew Hispanic Center’s report is available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/133.pdf
  2. 2. Camarota, Steven A. and Karen Jensenius. A Shifting Tide: Recent Trends in the Illegal Immigrant Population. Center for Immigration Studies, July 2009. Available at: www.cis.org/IllegalImmigration-ShiftingTide
  3. 3. Another contributing factor may be the decline in the birth rate in Mexico (the birthplace of most undocumented immigrants to the U.S.) from an average of 7 children per family in the 1960s to 2.2 children per family, or just over replacement rate, today. See Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda. Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Council, January 2010. Available at: www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/01/pdf/immigrationeconreport.pdf
  4. 4. Passel, Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010.
  5. 5. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. Trends in Unauthorized Immigration: Undocumented Inflow Now Trails Legal Inflow. Pew Hispanic Center. 2008. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/94.pdf.
  6. 6. Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan C. Baker. Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States. Office of Immigration Statistics, September 2008. Available at: www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois_ill_pe_2007.pdf
  7. 7. Ledford, Meredith King. Immigrants and the U.S. Health Care System: Five Myths that Misinform the American Public. Center for American Progress, June 2007. Available at: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/06/pdf/immigrant_health_report.pdf
  8. 8. Passel, Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010.
  9. 9. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/107.pdf
  10. 10. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/107.pdf
  11. 11. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/107.pdf
  12. 12. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/107.pdf
  13. 13. Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn. A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States. Pew Hispanic Center, April 2009. Available at: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/107.pdf
  14. Source: Pew Hispanic Center tabulations based on 2008 Current Population Survey.

Suggested citation

Michael K. Gusmano, "Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: Demographics and Socioeconomic Status," Undocumented Patients web site (Garrison, NY: The Hastings Center), last updated: February 14, 2012. Available at http://www.undocumentedpatients.org/issuebrief/demographics-and-socioeconomic-status/