U.S. Missing Out on As Much As $1.6 Billion That Refugee Women Could Be Contributing to Economy: Study

A new study has shone a light on just how much refugee women could contribute to the U.S. and global economies if employment and wage gaps were closed.

In the U.S., where employment rates for refugee women currently sit at 40 percent, refugee women could generate as much as $1.6 billion for the annual U.S. GDP, according to researchers at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS).

The study, led by renowned economist Jeni Klugman, also found that refugee women could contribute up to $1.4 trillion to the annual global GDP.

"This report, I think, illustrates the potential economic gain not only to the women themselves and their families, but to societies and economies at large through removing obstacles to productive work," Klugman said in an interview with Newsweek.

While Klugman said it was difficult to quantify exactly how much refugee women could contribute to national and global economies, she said that the study's findings should highlight the rewards of working to remove barriers that refugees face in seeking and creating work opportunities.

"In accessing paid, decent work, refugee women face restrictive labor market laws, increased threat of violence, discrimination, as well as regulatory and administrative barriers," the study asserts.

"All refugees face a range of challenges associated with forced displacement, but refugee women face additional barriers because of their gender and social status. Enabling refugee women's access to gainful employment offers significant gains not only for themselves, but also for host countries' economies," it says.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told Newsweek that for a country like the U.S., which has increasingly been closing its doors on the world's refugees, the study's findings should be a "wake-up call."

As Miliband noted, the Trump administration has already "significantly reduced the number of refugees allowed to come to the U.S.," by slashing the number of refugees admitted into the country from around 85,000 in 2016 to about 22,500 in 2018.

Reports have also alleged that some Trump administration officials have even suggested that the number be lowered even further, potentially to zero.

"Refugees who do come to the U.S. have got a big productive contribution to make," Miliband said. "I think this report will be inspiring for those who are trying to do the right thing and a wake-up call for those who are not," he said. "It shows the economic cost of neglecting the potential of women refugees."

While the study focuses on shining a light on the economic gain refugee women could bring to the global economy, it also highlights that by closing pay gaps and removing barriers for both refugee women and men in six countries alone—the U.S., Turkey, Uganda, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany—which together hold roughly 40 percent of the world's refugee population, the global GDP could be boosted by as much as $53 billion.

To put that into perspective, the amount is five times the combined annual budget of the United Nations Refugee Agency and International Organization for Migration, researchers say.

A woman and boy sit outside the entrance of a tent, at Laylan camp for the displaced about 25 kilometres east of the northern multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk on May 9, 2019. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty