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1M+ Construction Workers Unauthorized

Monday, April 6, 2015

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At least one in five U.S. roofers, drywall installers, painters and masons currently comes from the ranks of unauthorized immigrants, a new analysis shows.

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, according to the report by the Pew Research Center.

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

© / 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: Asia Pacific; Contractors; Drywall; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Government; Labor; Latin America; North America; Painters; Research; Roofing contractors; Workers

Comment from john lienert, (4/6/2015, 8:16 AM)

50% Oregon painters/drywallers

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/6/2015, 9:51 AM)

This is and has been a orchestrated move by numerous administrations of which they paint a human rights feel good type of picture helping out those poor immigrants to have a better way of life coming to America, all the while the real motive other than looking good politically is to drive the wage base down in the construction industry so corporations can pocket more of their direct margins. How do I know this? Because I making less now than I was 20 years ago. Go figure. But as more and more Americans cannot find a fair wage paying job we have plenty of illegals waiting to grab the hammer before it hits the floor. And for much less money.

Comment from Catherine Taylor, (4/6/2015, 2:30 PM)

Yep…When I go to the paint stores near the booming area of 30A Walton County, Florida most of the painters can not speak English. I am a College Educated, Tax Paying, Licensed and Insured Painting Contractor. When one of the million dollar homes in Walton County has a worker's comp claim or a general liability claim, the owners maybe shocked when they learn they are responsible because they hired unlicensed contractors and illegal immigrants.

Comment from jeff nimz, (4/6/2015, 6:33 PM)

Why not use the term "illegal immigrant"? At the end of the article they use the term "legal immigrant"not "authorized immigrant" to define someone who is here legally. Wouldn't the opposite of a legal immigrant be an illlegal immigrant? Or is that not PC enoungh?

Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/7/2015, 12:56 PM)

Jeff I hear you on that. I read an article the other day. It was about the AP, you know the international news reporting agency.They no longer use the term illegal alien in any of their transmissions, now it is called "undocumented worker" They dont want to offend said illegals.Correct me if I am wrong. If you hop a national border fence, evade due process of law, and live and work in that country, doesn't that make you an Illegal Alien?.... Just sayn

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