• ISSUE BRIEF

    Last updated: February 14, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: Demographics and Socioeconomic Status

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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/