Immigrants Help to Fill U.S. Construction Labor Shortages
Immigrants play an increasingly major role in the nation’s construction workforce, but even their growing presence has not been enough to alleviate debilitating labor shortages, according to an NAHB analysis of the 2004 American Community Survey (ACS) from the Census Bureau and Builders Economic Council (BEC) surveys conducted monthly by the association.
The BEC surveys have found that more than 50% of all builders consistently report either severe or some shortage of carpenters and more than 40% are concerned about the availability of roofers.
These labor shortages were particularly severe last summer, NAHB survey data show. In July, two-thirds of all interviewed builders reported shortages of carpenters and 42% said they did not have enough roofers.
Immigrant rates of employment are above-average in both of these high-demand trades, Census data show. About 22% of carpenters and 33% of roofers are foreign-born.
Although the ACS does not distinguish between residential and non-residential construction jobs, both require similar skills and draw workers from the same labor pool and many trades can go easily from one to the other. Roughly 20% of the construction workforce, or 2.4 million, are immigrants, according to the Census, higher than the 15% share of foreign-born workers in the nation’s workforce overall.
Using Census survey data, Natalia Siniavskaia, an NAHB economist, has reported a number of findings about the participation of immigrants in U.S. construction:
- Mexicans constitute 54% of the immigrant construction workforce, a clear majority. An additional 25% come from other countries in the Americas, 12% are from Europe and 8% come from Asia.
- While only 4% of native-born Americans work in the construction industry, 10% of immigrants from the Americas and 5% of European immigrants work in construction. Asian and other immigrants, such as those from Africa and Australia, are less likely to be construction workers than workers born in the U.S.
- One out of every eight Mexicans currently works in the industry. Of the Mexicans who have arrived in this country since 2000, 15% work in construction.
- More than one-third of all construction workers are immigrants in California, Nevada, Texas, Arizona and the District of Columbia. They account for more than a quarter of the construction workforce in New York, Florida and New Jersey; and they are stepping up their presence in such states as Colorado, Georgia, Illinois and North Carolina.
- An exception to most of the country, where immigrants from the Americas are most prevalent, Hawaii relies more heavily on workers born in Asia, and European immigrants are a significant source of labor in the Northeast (where workers from the Americas are still the most prevalent).
- Thirty-two percent of construction laborers are foreign-born. Laborers and carpenters account for almost 30% of overall U.S. construction employment.
To link to the NAHB analysis, "Immigrant Workers in Construction," click here.
For more information, e-mail Natalia Siniavskaia at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8441.