About GCIR's Economic Opportunity and Justice Work
GCIR’s current strategic plan charges us to promote economic justice and expand economic opportunity for low-wage immigrants and refugees. Through our work, we hone in on best practices in the areas of worker organizing; cross-sector and cross-community alliance building; and workforce and asset development.
We provide our members and other funders with the opportunity to delve more deeply into these issues through a diverse slate of programming, including our biennial national convening, as well as various information resources. And as part of our National Citizenship Initiative, GCIR has collected information on asset-building strategies and approaches to helping immigrants finance the naturalization process. GCIR is also exploring the intersection of immigrant and worker rights efforts and facilitating funder collaboration and information sharing in this space.
Why is this work important?
- Immigrants are a significant and increasing percentage of the U.S. labor force.
- Immigrants will fill workforce gaps created by aging native-born workers.
- Immigrants bring skills that meet the needs of the U.S. "hour-glass" economy, filling jobs at the high and low ends of the labor market.
Newcomers' economic motivations, combined with U.S. employers' strong demand for foreign workers, have made immigrants an increasingly important force within the U.S. economy. Immigrants make up one in eight workers in the United States1 and are expected to account for most of the nation's workforce growth between 2006 and 2035. But their economic contributions reach beyond the workforce.
In many urban areas, small businesses operated by immigrants have played an important role in revitalizing neighborhoods and providing jobs and stability for local residents. Immigrant workers also provide critical support to the U.S. tax base. For instance, a 1997 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrants paid more than $50 billion of taxes annually to all levels of government.2
Most newcomers, whether they voluntarily left their native countries or were forced to migrate, come to America in search of economic opportunities and the chance to build a better life. While the prospect of higher wages and better educational opportunities has drawn many immigrants to the United States, their ability to realize these aspirations depends on a combination of their own skills, experience, and determination as well as the opportunities and services offered by receiving communities.
Economic success and mobility are not only motivators for immigrants, but they are also key benchmarks of how well immigrant integration is occurring in receiving communities. Higher wages and financial stability are often required before immigrants can develop stronger ties to the broader community. Moreover, economic success for newcomers is usually accompanied by other indications of integration, such as English acquisition, higher education attainment, citizenship, and civic engagement.
The Struggle for Economic Justice
Despite their active, expanding, and well-represented participation in the U.S. economy, many low-income immigrants are unable to maximize their economic contributions and improve the well-being of their families. They face barriers in the workplace such as harsh working conditions, exploitation, low wages, and lack of benefits. Others have difficulty accessing continuing education, ESL classes, family-sustaining jobs, and opportunities to develop marketable skills and build assets for the future.3
Recent immigrants often find employment in low-paying jobs such as construction, food service, and agriculture, and they are disproportionately represented among those workers employed in private homes (49 percent) and hotels (31 percent). In terms of educational attainment, approximately 29 percent of immigrants have not completed high school, compared with seven percent of U.S.-born persons.4
In response to these challenges, GCIR is bringing grantmakers together to learn about and share best practices in expanding workers’ rights, alleviating immigrant poverty, and increasing opportunities for newcomers to establish an economic foothold and become fully contributing members of society.
For More Information
For additional information on these issues, including tips on how to make an effective case for supporting economic justice and opportunity for immigrants and refugees through your grantmaking, consult the following GCIR resources:
To learn more about this area of GCIR’s work, please contact Kaying Hang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-861-9243.
1. Schmidley, Diane, Profile of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2000, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, December 2001), http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-206.pdf
2. National Academy of Sciences, The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1997), http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=5779
3. Audrey Singer, Immigrant Workers in the U.S. Labor Force, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, March 15, 2012), http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2012/0315_immigrant_workers_singer.aspx