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Identifying Better Jobs and Pathways for Low-Wage Immigrant Women Workers


The US Department of Labor (DOL) Women’s Bureau (WB) sought to develop standards and analyze potential changes that would facilitate work opportunities for Immigrant Women. Immigrant and refugee women often end up at the bottom of the economic ladder, performing low-wage jobs in food service, cleaning services and farming.

They face the same struggles that male immigrants do, but in addition are subjected to gender discrimination. WB sought to establish a series of best practices that would help these women move into nontraditional jobs in emerging industries that offer a living wage. The resulting reports would inform policymakers and organizations as they addressed issues that affected refugee and immigrant women.

The Challenge

WB wanted to not just evaluate the current market conditions for Immigrant Women Workers, but to also prepare a target occupations report for those women. A pathways report that illustrates how Immigrant Women could move into those target occupations would provide clear insights for key stakeholders on how to support these women through policy initiatives.

EconSys was selected due to the depth of our background in rigorous quantitative analysis and our ability to provide a clear and concise report with actionable information. We had a previous track record of performance on WB and DOL projects and had conducted similar studies of African American Women and older working women. For those projects, EconSys conducted literature reviews, interviewed key informants, and produced white papers and fact sheets.

The Solution

With a strong background in labor studies, EconSys outlined a highly structured process to identify and address the barriers that immigrant and refugee women face in moving out of low-wage jobs and into middle-income jobs that are secure and sustaining. This involved a two-stage process, beginning with a literature review.

This review facilitated the production of a white paper that identified and evaluated specific barriers immigrant women faced in moving into middle-income. Two fact sheets were then established based on the finished white paper.

Upon completion of the white paper, a second stage was conducted. This involved career path mapping with a review of the labor market and current positions held by immigrant women. In this phase, EconSys identified specific paths to higher paying jobs based on the work experience, education, and location of immigrant women. The second stage included:

  • Conducting employment analysis on immigrant women workers using the American Community Survey (ACS), a part of the US Census Bureau. This helped determine the current roles these women most often held and their levels of education, assets and resources.
  • Finding occupations for women to move into that provide better long-term career paths. WB indicated a need for future replication of the process for other segments of the population of women workers, so it was designed to be replicable.
  • Preparation of the Target Occupations Report. This involved analysis of ACS data and O*NET data to produce a list of 50 potential target occupations from O*NET job zones 2 or 3 for each identified current role.
  • To determine the practicality of the occupations identified as target occupations, we analyzed the basic and job-related skills for each. This looked at the skill overlap and education for each job. This could then be compared to the same for current positions.

Our analysis of the career pathways for this project led to important discussions and policy considerations. We were proud of the impact we had with the Women’s Bureau.

Jacob Denne

Senior Consultant


Competencies required for the implementation of the project included:
  • Quantitative analysis of immigrant women workers
  • Analysis of ACS and other occupational data
  • Quantitative analysis of the differences between worker populations
  • Quantitative analysis of career paths and upward mobility
  • Use of O*NET Online and other sources of occupational requirements

The Results

The resulting report provided clear pathways from current positions to targeted occupations that offered higher wages and better working conditions without substantially increasing education or certification requirements.

The two stages of the project were completed over the course of two years, producing a summary white paper and fact sheets for the initial stage and a Target Occupations Report and Pathways to Target Occupations report in the second stage.

DOL and WB were highly satisfied with the results of the project and indicated their use as resources for policymakers, advocates, workforce development organizations, and other senior stakeholders working on issues related to immigrant and refugee women.

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