Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s recent comments seem to imply that there are too many native-born white construction workers and suggested that more of these relatively good-paying jobs need to go to minorities. Ensuring that all Americans have equal access to these relatively good-paying jobs, primarily done by workers lacking a college degree, is a laudable goal. However, an analysis of the government’s 2021 American Community Survey by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that it is immigrants (legal and illegal) who are significantly over-represented in construction.
The Center has previously estimated that illegal immigrants hold a significant share of construction jobs. It seems clear that one way to free up some of these reasonably good jobs for those without a college degree would be to enforce immigration laws, rather than pit one group of Americans against another. Also, reducing the overall level of legal immigration in the future, such as eliminating the H-2B program, which brings in construction and other non-agricultural workers each year, would be helpful in increasing employment opportunities in this field for all Americans.
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Among the findings:
- In 2021, immigrants (legal and illegal) were 29 percent of all construction workers, but only 17 percent of the total labor force.
- With more than seven out of 10 construction workers being U.S.-born, any assertion that people born in this country are uninterested in such jobs is wrong.
- The Center’s previous estimate, based on data through 2016, shows that 15 percent, or more than one in seven, construction jobs are held by illegal immigrants — three times their 5 percent share of the overall labor force.
- There were an estimated 1.1 million illegal immigrants working in construction.
- The idea that U.S.-born, non-Hispanic whites are overrepresented in construction is false. They were 56 percent of the total labor force in 2021, but only 50 percent of construction workers.
- U.S.-born, non-Hispanic African-Americans are significantly underrepresented in construction. Native-born African-Americans were 10 percent of the total labor force in 2021, but only 5 percent of construction workers.
- Foreign-born Hispanics are 8 percent of the total labor force, but 24 percent of construction workers.
- Overall, Hispanics (U.S.- and foreign-born) are 37 percent of construction workers and 18 percent of the total labor force.