COVID-19 and the subsequent economic shutdown have resulted in unprecedented jobs loss and financial hardship. Many gainfully employed Oregon residents who are immigrants (and contribute to our collective prosperity) have lost their jobs because of the pandemic and have no access to any financial assistance program such as the federal Unemployment Insurance program. Undocumented immigrants are categorically excluded from some of our most important federal safety net programs such as SNAP and TANF, in addition to the $1,200 Economic Impact Payment and the Earned Income Tax Credit. This has immediate harsh impacts, such as homelessness and food insecurity, and long-term impacts undermining the health and stability of immigrant families.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unearthing long standing inequities and deep structural issues with policies and practices that systematically disenfranchise and exclude our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers because of where they were born. The current system fails to recognize and support some of the region’s essential workers and the role they play in the local, regional, and state economy.
How large is the population?
In 2017, an estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Oregon. In 2016, nearly 80,000 undocumented immigrants worked in Oregon, representing 3.9% of the state’s labor force.
Integrated into multi-status households
In 2014, nearly one third of immigrants in Oregon were undocumented. Undocumented immigrants are integrated in households and communities across the state. Many households include members with different immigrant statuses. More than 186,400 people in Oregon, including more than 80,000 born in the United States, lived with at least one undocumented family member. Nearly 90,000 US citizens in Oregon live with at least one family member who is undocumented. More than 71,200 kids who are US Citizens live with at least one undocumented family members.
Working for low wages in industries that have already been hit hard
In 2016, Pew published data about the top occupations for undocumented immigrants in the United States. If we apply these numbers to Oregon, we estimate that undocumented immigrants earned roughly $877M in 2016.
In 2014, more than half of undocumented immigrants in Oregon worked in were Accommodations and Food Service, Agriculture, and Manufacturing. These sectors have all experienced COVID-19 related employment losses. Although we are not yet able to track the specific impact on undocumented immigrants and their households, initial unemployment claims show the impact on industries most likely to have undocumented workforces.
New data from the Oregon Employment Department show the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on the labor market. The sector hardest hit is Accommodations and Food Services. The sector employs more than 9 percent of all workers in Oregon but represents 22 percent of all initial unemployment claims since the beginning of the economic shutdown. During that period, initial claims were processed for more than 72,955 Accommodations and Food Service workers in Oregon. This represents 38 percent of the 2019 workforce.
Agriculture and Manufacturing have experienced smaller loses. Agriculture, which employs just under 3 percent of the state’s labor force, saw 3,685 workers (7% of 2019 workforce) file initial unemployment claims. Manufacturing, which employs just under 10 percent of the labor force, saw 34,074 workers (17% of the 2019 workforce) file initial unemployment claims.
These numbers likely represent a fraction of the workers who have been laid off. Faced with unprecedented demand, the unemployment insurance system currently has a backlog of claims. We will likely see more layoffs during the coming weeks and months.
 Oregon Employment Department