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Transgender Workers at Greater Risk for Unemployment and Poverty

A new report released today offers the most comprehensive analysis to date of the inequities facing transgender workers in the American workforce—from finding and keeping good jobs, to having equal access to job-related benefits, to obtaining adequate health insurance coverage.

A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers

A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers is a companion to the recently released report, A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits, and More Taxes for LGBT Workers.

The report also offers specific recommendations for policymakers and employers to reduce and eliminate inequities for transgender workers and help restore America’s basic workplace bargain of fairness and equality.

A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers is co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in partnership with Freedom to Work, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Out and Equal Workplace Advocates and SEIU.

Transgender Workers are at a High Risk of Unemployment and Poverty

Recent CAP polling shows that 73% of voters support protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment. Despite this strong public support, no federal law provides explicit legal protections for transgender workers based on gender identity/expression—and only 17 states and the District of Columbia offer these protections.

As a result, transgender workers face higher rates of unemployment and are at greater risk of poverty.

A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers reveals that:

  • Transgender workers report unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole (14% vs. 7% at the time the workers were surveyed).
  • More than four in 10 transgender people (44%) who are currently working are underemployed.
  • Transgender workers are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of under $10,000 (15% vs. 4% at the time the workers were surveyed).

“This new report underscores the harsh reality of what it means to live and work as a transgender person in this country,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE. “Like other workers, transgender Americans deserve to be judged by our work and contributions and not by one aspect of who we are.”

How Americans’ Basic Bargain is Broken for Transgender Workers

“Unfair laws and policies impose real, everyday burdens on transgender workers across the country,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. “It’s shocking that in this day and age, federal non-discrimination law still does not explicitly protect a high-performing worker from being fired just because he or she is transgender.”

Among the burdens and inequities faced by transgender workers:

Pervasive Misunderstanding, Hiring Bias and On-The-Job Discrimination.

Many Americans have very little understanding of what it means to be transgender. As a result, for transgender people seeking work, the entire job search and hiring process is full of challenges, particularly if a legal name or gender on an identity document (e.g., a driver’s license) does not match the outward appearance of the applicant. Once a transgender employee is hired, he or she may face many forms of harassment and discrimination, including denial of promotions or unfair firing.

Wage Inequities.

In addition to job discrimination, transgender employees face wage disparities that make it harder for them to provide for themselves and their families.

Lack of Explicit Legal Protections.

Transgender workers facing discrimination may seek recourse by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC will work to mediate a settlement on the worker’s behalf and has done so successfully. However, EEOC rulings are not binding on private employers, furthering the need for explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender workers under federal law.

Inability to Update Identity Documents.

Intrusive and burdensome requirements can still make it difficult

Unequal Access to Health Insurance Benefits.

Exclusions in health insurance often deny transgender workers access to both basic healthcare and transition-related care.

Denial of Personal Medical Leave.

Employers may deny transgender workers leave for necessary transition-related care, incorrectly stating that such care does not constitute a “serious medical condition.” As a result, transgender employees may face a difficult choice: Put their jobs at risk to care for themselves, or make do without the necessary healthcare and put their health in jeopardy.

“Far too often, employers offer health benefits that do not provide the coverage and medical leave that are crucial to the wellbeing and security of transgender workers and their families,” said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President of External Affairs at CAP. “Workplace fairness means more than freedom from harassment; it means equal access to the benefits that transgender employees need to live healthy and productive lives.”

“Despite the progress made at the local, state, and federal levels, transgender Americans face workplace discrimination at alarming rates,” said Jeff Krehely, Vice President and Chief Foundation Officer at the Human Rights Campaign. “The EEOC’s recent decision in Holder v. Macy, which found that discrimination against transgender workers is prohibited since it is a form of sex-based discrimination, was important; however we have a ways to go until we are able to end the cycle of discrimination, unemployment, and underemployment of qualified workers who are willing and able to contribute to society in meaningful and productive ways.”


The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

The Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a social justice organization dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment.


Freedom to Work

National LGBTQ Task Force


Out & Equal Workplace Advocates

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