Abstract: Exploring Determinants of Employment Among Resettled Refugee Women in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Exploring Determinants of Employment Among Resettled Refugee Women in the United States

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Erum Agha, MSW, Research Assistant, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Opportunities of employment for resettled refugee women is an urgent concern of local and international organizations and resettlement agencies. Challenged with a lack of language proficiency, skills relevant to employment, confidence in seeking employment, and household and childrearing duties, these women are typically unemployed or underemployed in countries of resettlement due to a multitude of factors. Moreover, of those who are able to find employment initially, many are unable retain it. Although economic self-sufficiency is one of the main goals of the resettlement process, the type of employment for resettled refugee women is rarely taken into consideration when making this determination. Even when some employers are willing to support refugees with trainings and internships, these opportunities mostly exist in the unskilled labor market and availability of opportunities remains scare in the skilled job market. The lack of opportunities for employment for more than 1.5 million resettled refugee women in the United States puts them in a precarious economic bind which is detrimental to their successful transition and integration and impacts their ability to provide for their families. In addition, unemployment or unstable employment increases the risk for psychological distress.  

Methods: This study uses the New Immigrant Survey (NIS-2003-1) data set which is a nationally representative cross-sectional study of new legal immigrants to the United States. A total of 59 variables pertaining to resettled refugees (n=549) were strategically selected for this study to identify employment trends. Questionnaires for the interview were developed by the NIS team and sought information on topics related to health, education, language proficiency, and employment among other variables of sociological interest. Bivariate relationships between group status of resettled refugee women (i.e., urban vs. rural origin) as the independent variable and the dependent variable and covariates were examined using chi-square tests for categorical variables and t-tests and ANOVAs for continuous variables. Two-tailed inferential tests were used with alpha set at .05. Next, to examine the relationship between group status and employment status logistic regression was used and employment (yes/no) was regressed on group status and all covariates in a step-wise procedure. First, demographic indicators were entered into the model and employment indicators were entered into the model in a second step.

Results: Resettled refugee women from rural origins reported lower education levels (p<.05), and poor English comprehension and proficiency (p<.05). Moreover, compared to those from urban settings, enrollment in English language classes was slightly lower among these women (p<.05). However, rates of employment (62%) although low, were similar between resettled refugee women from urban and rural origins (p<.05).

Conclusion & Implications: Attaining economic self-sufficiency is a critical step in successful integration of resettled refugee women in the American society. Unless real solutions are sought to integrate resettled refugee women into opportunities for meaningful employment as a first step, the goal of economic self-sufficiency of these women and their dependents cannot be attained. Providing them with opportunities for advancement then becomes the logical next step.