Senate Stimulus: 300,000 Jobs for Illegals? - 1 in 7 New Construction Jobs Could Go to Illegal Immigrants

By Steven A. Camarota February 2009

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Contact: Steven Camarota, sac@cis.org, (202) 466-8185

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 4, 2008) — The Senate Stimulus bill currently being considered contains about $104 billion in new government funding for construction projects with the goal of creating jobs for millions of unemployed Americans. Unlike the House version, there is no provision in the bill to bar illegal immigrants from getting these taxpayer-funded jobs. This could result in several hundred thousand illegal immigrants receiving jobs.

  • The current version of the Senate Stimulus bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) contains $104 billion in construction spending, including highways, schools, and public housing.
  • Government estimates suggest this spending should create about 2 million new construction jobs.
  • Consistent with other research, the Center Immigration Studies has previously estimated that 15 percent of construction workers are illegal immigrants.
  • This means that about 300,000 of the construction jobs created by the Senate stimulus could go to illegal aliens (15 percent of 2 million).

Discussion: The $104 billion figure for new construction is based on the current version of the Senate Stimulus bill. Government estimates indicate that each $1 billion spent on construction should create roughly 19,600 construction jobs, each lasting a year.1 Thus $104 billion for construction projects should create construction-related jobs for about 2.04 million workers over several years. The Center for Immigration Studies has estimated that about one out of seven (or 15 percent) of workers employed in construction in the United States are illegal immigrants.2 Thus, if no effort is made to bar illegal immigrants from these jobs, it is extremely likely that about 300,000 will go to illegal immigrants. The House of Representatives version of the stimulus package has a provision requiring contractors to use the E-Verify system, which enables employers to quickly determine if new hires are authorized to work in the United States. At present, the Senate has no such provision.


1 The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates indicate that each $1 billion in construction spending directly creates 19,584 construction related jobs. This number comes from Employment Impacts of Highway Infrastructure Investment, April 2008, FHWA. This figure does not include jobs indirectly created by construction spending.

2 Steven A. Camarota, “Dropping Out: Immigrant Entry and Native Exit From the Labor Market, 2000-2005,” Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, March 2006, p. 19. A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study, “The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.,” estimated that 14 percent of construction workers were illegal immigrants; see page 3 of that report. Both the CIS and Pew studies were based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey (CPS). The March 2007 CPS shows that the illegal share of construction workers may have grown to 18 percent, but we use 15 percent in the above discussion to be conservative.

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The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research organization that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.