Open borders advocacy groups like the American Immigration Council (funded by the American Immigration Lawyers Association) have used the tragedy of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to argue for more immigration on the grounds that there are not enough workers in Texas and Florida to rebuild businesses and homes damaged by the storms. Bringing in foreign workers is one of the main ways immigration lawyers make their money, of course, so it is not surprising that they would disregard the enormous number of Americans who could be put to work in these states doing hurricane cleanup and rebuilding. In fact, government data from this year show an enormous number of potential workers available in both states and in the nation as a whole. Construction work is typically done by less-educated young men and the labor force participation rate of such workers shows a long-term decline, even before the Great Recession. The large amount of federal funding that is likely to flow to these states for rebuilding efforts offers a real opportunity to retrain and draw some of these young men (and women) into the labor force.
Young, less-educated, native men not in the labor force (working or looking for work):
- The share of young, less-educated men in the labor force (working or looking for work) shows a long-term decline in both states. In the first part of 2017, in both Texas and Florida, only 72 percent of native-born men without a bachelor's degree (18 to 29) were in the labor force. Back in 2000, the figures were 82 percent in Texas and 84 percent in Florida.
- In the first half of 2017, there were 559,000 native-born men ages 18 to 29 without a college degree not working in Texas, and 367,000 in Florida. There were also 79,000 less-educated immigrant men ages 18 to 29 not working in Texas, and 49,000 not working in Florida.
- To place these numbers in context, the total number of construction laborers in Texas was 205,000; there were 140,000 in Florida. The total number of carpenters was 128,000 in Texas and 68,000 in Florida.
- The idea that no American does this kind of work in these states is simply wrong. In Texas and Florida, about half of construction laborers and carpenters are native-born. A total of 260,000 native-born Americans work as carpenters or construction laborers in these two states.
- The data also allows us to focus only on those who are not in school. In 2017, of men 18 to 29 without a bachelor's degree who are not students, only 85 percent in Texas were in the labor force. As recently as 2007 it was 90 percent. In Florida, only 83 percent were in the labor force, compared to 91 percent in 2007.
- Of course, many students work, so they, too, are part of the potential labor force. Among students, the share for those ages 18 to 29 in the labor force also shows a large decline. In 2017, of native-born male students 18 to 29 without a bachelor's degree, just 40 percent were in the labor force in Texas, compared to 56 percent in 2000. In Florida, the share was 43 percent in 2017 and 62 percent in 2000.
All working-age, less-educated adults in Texas and Florida:
- The total number of adult (18 to 65), native-born men and women without a bachelor's degree not working in these states is enormous. At the start of 2017 there were 3.2 million native-born adults in Texas not working, and 2.2 million not working in Florida.
- Just 70 percent of working age (18-65) men and women without a bachelor's degree in both Texas and Florida were in the labor force in the first half of 2017. In 2000, 77 percent of working-age adults in Texas were in the labor force; it was 75 percent in Florida.
Nationally, there seems to be an abundance of potential less-educated workers:
- In the first half of 2017, there were 6.4 million native-born men ages 18 to 29 without a bachelor's degree not working in the United States.
- There were a total of 16.6 million men ages 18 to 65 without a bachelor's degree not working.
- The total number of native-born men and women ages 18 to 65 without a bachelor's degree not working was 38.3 million in the first part of 2017.
These tables provide detailed employment information for every state:
Data Source and Methods. All employment and labor force statistics by age, education, and sex come from the January to June public-use files of the Current Population Survey (CPS) from 2000, 2007, and 2017. The figures represent six-month averages. Combining six months of data produces more statistically robust estimates at the state level. The data is collected by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is used to calculate labor force statistics. Immigrants are defined as persons who were not U.S. citizens at birth; all other persons are native-born. Census Bureau surveys include both legal and illegal immigrants.
Those in the labor force are those who are working (even part-time) and those who are looking for work (the unemployed). Those not working are either unemployed or out of the labor force entirely. The officially unemployed are only those who respond in the CPS that they have looked for job in the four weeks prior to the month of the survey. Students are those 18 to 24 who report that they attend school. To get a more complete picture of what is happening in Texas and Florida, we focus on labor force participation rates as they are a much broader measure of labor force attachment. Figures for construction laborers and carpenters come from the public-use file of the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), which is also collected by the Census Bureau. The ACS is a much larger survey than the CPS and, as a result, allows researchers to examine specific occupations in large states like Texas and Florida. However, the 2015 data is only reported on an annual basis and 2015 is the most recent ACS available that has been released to the public.