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Immigrants across the U.S. went on a one-day strike last month to highlight their importance to the nation’s economy. As a group, immigrants contribute to the economy here and also in their native countries, with many sending part of their paychecks as remittances to relatives there.
To take a closer look at immigrants’ earning power, NerdWallet analyzed U.S. Census Bureau and other data to explore how their households' paychecks differ by state and compare with those of households headed by a U.S.-born person, as well as how remittances by immigrants vary among nationalities.
What immigrants earn
In 45 states and Washington, D.C., the median annual income of households led by a U.S.-born person was higher than that of households led by an immigrant, according to the 2015 American Community Survey. Immigrants or “foreign-born” residents, as they are described in census data, are people who weren’t U.S. citizens at birth, but who lived in the nation at the time of the 2015 ACS. A household headed by an immigrant is one where the home’s owner or primary leaseholder was not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national at birth, per the Census Bureau’s definition.
The biggest income gap was in Wyoming, where the 2015 median annual income of households headed by an immigrant ($40,145) was $19,544 less than that of households there headed by a U.S.-born person ($59,689). Households led by a U.S.-born person also significantly outearned those headed by an immigrant in North Dakota, Nebraska and Utah. In each of those states, the median annual income of households headed by a U.S.-born person was at least $16,000 more than that of households led by an immigrant.
Five states bucked the trend. In Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Delaware and Michigan, households headed by an immigrant had a higher median annual income. Households led by a foreign-born person in Virginia earned a median annual income of $73,420. That’s not only $7,935 higher than the median annual income of households headed by a U.S.-born person in Virginia at $65,485 — it’s more than the median annual income of households led by a U.S.-born person in 47 states.
Use the chart below to see the median annual income of households led by immigrants and U.S.-born people in each state.
How much immigrants send to their native countries
To get a better picture of how much money immigrants in the U.S. send to their countries of origin, the Center for Latin American Monetary Studies gathered information about immigrants from 63 countries. It calculated each immigrant group's total income in 2014 and then determined the total amount that all immigrants from each country collectively sent back to that country, to arrive at an average remittance percentage by group.
On average, immigrants from Laos and Myanmar sent less than a quarter of 1% of their income to their native countries, while those from Guatemala sent nearly 31% of their income. Among immigrants from all 63 countries studied, the median remittance amount was roughly 6% of income.
The table below shows the 10 countries whose immigrants in the U.S. remitted the largest share of their income on average in 2014.
Average percentage of income immigrants remitted
Average share of income remitted in 2014
Source: Center for Latin American Monetary Studies
The total amount of remittances from the U.S. to all other countries has increased since 2010 as shown in the chart below.
Advice for sending money abroad
In recent years, immigrants in the U.S. have been increasing the amount of money in remittances, which helps their families back in their native countries. Given the economic value of remittances in immigrants’ countries of origin, senders should look for the most cost-effective methods of transferring money abroad.
Explore all options for international money transfers to find services with lower fees, better foreign exchange rates and faster estimated delivery speeds. Even small differences in fees and rates can add up, so it’s important to shop around for money transfers. Confirm how the money will be delivered, too, so the recipient doesn’t expect a direct deposit when the cash must be picked up in person.