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In Construction, 1 in 8 Unauthorized

Thursday, April 2, 2015

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Despite a slight shift from blue collar to white, unauthorized immigrant workers remain a major force in U.S. construction and building, particularly at the lower ends of those industries, a new analysis shows.

Nearly one in four construction painters (24 percent) is an unauthorized immigrant, while one in three (34 percent) drywall installers is, according to the report by the Pew Research Center. The U.S. roofing workforce is 27 percent unauthorized immigrants, as are 22 percent of stone, brick and block masons, Pew reports.

© / Savas-Keskiner

About 8.1 million workers in the United States are unauthorized immigrants. Most are concentrated into a few industries, including construction and trades.

A "solid majority" of unauthorized immigrant workers "still works in low-skilled service, construction and production occupations," the report said.

Overall, unauthorized immigrants made up 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2012, Pew reported. But those 8.1 million workers are concentrated in relatively few areas, led by farming, fishing and forestry, where more than one in four workers is an unauthorized immigrant.

Construction, Production

Unauthorized immigrants also make up:

  • 17 percent of the workforce in building/ground cleaning and maintenance;
  • 14 percent of the construction and extraction workforce;
  • 9 percent of the production workforce; and
  • 7 percent of transportation and material moving.
Pew Research Center

Unauthorized immigrants dominate the lower-skilled ranks of construction and extraction; production, installation and repair; transportation and material moving; and farming, fishing and forestry, the report says.

However, despite gains in recent years, only five percent of unauthorized immigrants hold management jobs, compared with 15 percent of U.S.-born workers.

The hundreds of thousands of foreign-born workers in dangerous occupations like construction and extraction has raised special concern by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Between their language barriers, their relative lack of education, and their concentration in temporary positions, these workers face above-average risk of injury, illness or fatality on the job, federal officials say.

Ups and Downs

The number of unauthorized immigrants working in the three largest occupations—construction, production and service—increased from 1995 to 2007, but declined or leveled off after that.

PewResearchCenter PewResearch
Pew Research Center

Their presence in construction rose and fell with that industry's fortunes. As construction employment fell overall from 2007 to 2012, so did its numbers of unauthorized immigrants.

Those numbers also rose from five percent of all construction workers in 1995 to nine percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 2007-08. As the construction bubble burst, so did employment of unauthorized immigrant workers, dipping to 14 percent—about 1.3 million workers—of that workforce in 2012, Pew said.

The View by State

The unauthorized-immigrant share of the workforce "varies markedly" by state, Pew reports. Not surprisingly, states with higher percentages of unauthorized immigrants as residents also see more of them in the workforce.

At the same time, Pew notes, there is a higher percentage of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. labor force than in the overall population.

Pew Research Center

The states with the highest percentage of unauthorized immigrants in their workforce are Nevada (10.2 percent), California (9.4 percent) and Texas (8.9 percent), Pew reports.

Southern states employ more unauthorized immigrants in construction than other regions; in the Midwest, manufacturing is the biggest employer of these workers.

Overall, in 2012, unauthorized immigrants accounted for 3.5 percent of the U.S. population and 26 percent of all immigrants, Pew said.

Defining Terms

The study defines “unauthorized immigrants” as are all foreign-born non citizens residing in the country who are not “legal immigrants.”

“Legal immigrants” are defined as people granted legal permanent residence; those granted asylum; people admitted as refugees; and people admitted under a set of specific authorized temporary statuses for longer-term residence and work.


Tagged categories: Drywall; Government; Labor; North America; Painters; Program/Project Management; Research; Roofing contractors; Workers

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/2/2015, 10:04 AM)

So is this the new politically correct term for illegal aliens?. "Unauthorized worker". Call it what it is please. Its funny now even the AP news clearing house wont allow anyone in their reports to call it illegal aliens, their policy is to call them un-documented workers. What a crock! If you snuck across the border and evade due process of law of the land then you are here illegally. period.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (4/2/2015, 11:30 AM)

Just imagine all the millions of Americans that could get off the welfare rolls and gain a productive job and income if their job were not stolen by illegals. Then consider how much it is costing working tax paying Americans for all the illegals kids in school, health cost, rent assistance, food stamps, etc. Illegals cost the state of Arizona alone over 2 Billion dollars a year.

Comment from jim dolan, (4/2/2015, 12:38 PM)

Finally, a subject I can agree with Chuck P. Jim J., I concur. Now that we've talked about it, are we ready to do something at the polls. I've listened to these complaints for thirty years, yet we vote liberals into office, and don't hold the GOP to their campaign promises. Welll?

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/3/2015, 11:03 AM)

Jim, I guess that would lead to this question, when will we have any one in either the Democratic or Republican party worthy of our votes? Pretty slim pickings every election year. Seems to me and correct me if I'm wrong that the current system we have is almost a us vs. them system designed to fail. A house divided amongst itself cannot strand. Heck any more even the parties cannot agree with themselves.

Comment from gregory internicola, (4/5/2015, 1:52 PM)

Harry and Ike new what to do about illegal aliens. Deport them all.there are many here legally. Let's not slap them in the face by allowing the criminal illegals have amnesty. aka right to work states.

Comment from Jim Johnson, (4/6/2015, 1:40 AM)

Jim & Chuck, I agree that it seems the two parties are in bed with each other and merely feed each other. My personal response is to be careful who I support for a candidate and I do not donate to either party as neither deserves my money. When I do choose to donate it is directly to the actual candidate of my choice. I would comment that term limits would go a long way to helping with the problems we are discussing here.

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/6/2015, 9:59 AM)

Agreed Jim. That would rectify the career politicians that traditionally are out for themselves and not "We the people"

Comment from Michael Duffy, (4/6/2015, 10:07 AM)

Those who favor "deport them all" should watch the documentary 9500 Liberty (Google it). I served in the Army with many so-called "illegals" who have done more for the liberty and freedoms we enjoy as Americans than many who blame them and people like them for seeking a better life. Most "illegals" are harder working, more family-oriented, and more thankful for the privilege of being in this country than many "red-blooded Americans" - and I mean no criticism of the average Joe and Jane. I saw a funny poster last week of five, armed, native Americans on horseback and the caption read: Defending Ourselves Against Illegal Immigrants Since 1492. That's a profound, and pretty humorous synopsis of one political counter-argument. The real crimes involved in the arena of "undocumented workers" are more precisely perpetrated by those who provide fraudulent documents and hirings (usually below a fair or minimum wage). The bulk of those crimes are not committed by illegals, but rather by good old American opportunists - maybe we'd do better by targeting those criminals if we want to do something about the injustices. Here's a real irony: it turns out, communities that embrace so-called "illegals" (but who are otherwise law-abiding) benefit in numerous ways. Communities that absorb and help integrate undocumenteds are shown to have stronger economies, broader tax bases, and healthier communities than those who seek to isolate, restrict and oppress. Those who talk about undocumented people as "stealing jobs", "criminals", "welfare seekers" and similar are generally uninformed (more screaming expected) ... the statistics don't support the hype but it makes for good fodder for those looking to blame others for anything wrong locally. El Paso, on the Mexican border, for example, is among the safest cities in America, for example. So much for hordes of criminal undocumenteds. No doubt, some readers will object to these views, but again, if you've served in the Army or Marine Corps with "undocumenteds" or have credible statistics to back up what appears to be an otherwise naked statement of intolerance, share it. I offer with 9500 Liberty as a pretty good starting point. And for those who remain hell-bent on deporting, good luck with finding buses for the estimated 12 million or so estimated undocumenteds who qualify for that plan. You'll need it, since the pols who promote the division and undeserved contempt have no intention or real desire of trying to remove them. They just want you upset enough to vote for them. And you're better off voting for someone who has a plan to allow a path to citizenship and limited rights. Back to work.

Comment from Larry Zacharias, (4/7/2015, 3:01 PM)

For every employed illegal or undocumented alien in the country there is an illegal employer lacking the proper employment documentation allowing his employee to work in the US (i.e. no Social Security Numbers, Green Cards etc.) We you make the disincentives for employing severe, consistent, and highly likely – we won’t have an undocumented worker problem. The illegals will self deport.

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