Something different has happened during the COVID recession than is typical for other recessions: there has been noticeably more job loss among women than among men.  Dr. C Nicole Mason, President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, coined the term “she-cession” to describe this gendered pattern of job loss that is the converse of what in 2008-09 was sometimes called a “mancession.” Women of color, as Mason notes, have been even more starkly impacted by job loss, a double impact since they started in a more economically precarious position.

Undocumented women are triply impacted by the COVID pandemic: as women; as primarily women of color; and as immigrants who lack legal status.

Undocumented women are likely to be in lower-wage jobs, so they have less savings to fall back on. Women without legal status are also highly concentrated in the service industries that have seen greatest job loss in this recession. And since family responsibilities typically fall mostly on women, undocumented women are also scrambling during the pandemic caring for kids who may not be in school, and for older family members who may need assistance.

How many undocumented women are faced by these challenges in New York City?

At the Fiscal Policy Institute, we made some general estimates. For details on where the numbers come from, see the note on sources and methodology below. Our estimates show: Adult women make up roughly 200,000 of the 476,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City.

Prior to the pandemic, there were roughly 60,000 undocumented women living below the city’s poverty line. This is undoubtedly higher today, as undocumented families face job loss and economic hardship.

Perhaps the most dire measure of need during this pandemic recession is food insecurity. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey has been tracking how many people live in households “where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days.” Making adjustments to the findings for March 2021 to take the overall numbers and from there make estimates for undocumented women in New York City, the Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that roughly 35,000 adult undocumented women in New York City faced food insecurity, 18 percent of all undocumented women.

New York State recently passed a major program to aid undocumented immigrants through this pandemic, the Excluded Worker Fund (see this recent Fiscal Policy Institute report). Once it takes effect, the fund will provide urgently needed aid to undocumented workers across the state, including New York City. Yet, not all undocumented women are expected to be able to access these funds, among other reasons because accessing the funds requires paperwork about employment and residency that not all undocumented women will have. Rent relief also passed in the state budget, providing renters with financial help to cover upward of 12 months in back owed rent and utilities, as well as three future months of rent, regardless of immigration status. This, too, should help some of the undocumented women in New York City who have not been able to access federal rent relief programs because of their immigration status. However, even after these new sources of aid come into effect, thousands of undocumented women are likely to continue to face crushing economic hardship during this pandemic she-cession.


The most recent Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) Annual Report, The State of Our Immigrant City, estimates that there are 476,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City. This is based on data from the 2019 American Community Survey, imputing legal status for immigrants from a firmly grounded approach developed by New York City. The report shows that just over 90 percent of undocumented immigrants are 18 and over, so there are roughly 431,000 undocumented adults in New York City.

Using a similar methodology, the Center for Migration Studies shows that in New York State slightly less than half—46 percent—of undocumented immigrants are females (of all ages). We correspondingly assume that about 46 percent of the 431,000 adult undocumented immigrants in New York City are women: 197,000.

The number of adult undocumented women living below the poverty level prior to the pandemic is taken from the State of Our Immigrant City, which shows a rate for undocumented immigrants of 29 percent in 2018. The poverty rate reported here is superior to the traditional poverty level, and is parallel to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty measure. Among other advantages of this measure are that it incorporates non-cash aid, such as SNAP or rental assistance. It is also for this reason that undocumented immigrants have considerably higher poverty rates using this alternative measure, since others benefit from forms of assistance that are not available to people without legal status.

The overall number and share of people facing food insecurity during March, 2021, is reported by the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for the New York City metro area—New York City and the suburbs. We assume that the rate in New York City is 41 percent higher than in the New York Metro area, using the pre-pandemic ratio of the federal poverty rate for the two regions according to the 2018 American Community Survey. And, we assume the rate for undocumented immigrants is 39 percent higher than the overall rate, using poverty level for undocumented immigrants compared to the overall level for the city in 2018 as reported in the State of Our Immigrant City report.

In order to achieve an equitable recovery we must first understand how undocumented women have been impacted by the economic downturn.  And despite recent policy advances in New York State, undocumented women are still especially vulnerable and even more likely to be left behind.


By: David Dyssegaard Kallick and Shamier Settle

David Dyssegaard Kallick is director of the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative, and Shamier Settle is a policy analyst at the Fiscal Policy Institute.