New NAHB research shows that while foreign-born workers represent a substantial component of the US construction labor force, accounting for almost 23 percent, their share is even higher in construction trades, reaching 28 percent.
Concentration of immigrants is particularly high in some of the trades needed to build a home, like carpenters, painters, drywall/ceiling tile installers, brick masons, and construction laborers – trades that require less formal education but consistently register some of the highest labor shortages in the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) surveys and NAHB Remodeling Market Index (RMI).
The two most prevalent construction occupations, laborers and carpenters, account for about 30 percent of the construction labor force. More than a third of all construction laborers and 28 percent of carpenters are of foreign born origin.
The construction occupations with the highest presence of immigrants are plasterers/stucco masons, drywall installers and roofers. The share of immigrants in these trades exceeds 59, 49 and 43 percent respectively. Between 43 and 47 percent of workers in these occupations do not have high school diploma.
The trades with low presence of foreign born labor, such as construction and building inspectors, boilermakers, elevator installers, electricians, first-line supervisors – tend to recruit better educated workers. Only 5 percent of construction and building inspectors, less than 3 percent of elevator installers/repairers and 9 percent of electricians did not graduate from high school.
The presence of immigrant workers in non-construction trades in the building industry – such as management, office and sales occupations – looks less relevant. The share of immigrants among construction and miscellaneous managers – the top two most common non-construction trades in the industry – is under 12 and 14 percent respectively, it goes further down to 9 percent among chief executives, and to 7 percent among general and operations managers.
In some states, reliance on foreign-born labor is even more pronounced. Immigrants comprise close to 41 percent of the construction workforce in California and close to 40 percent in Texas. In New York, 35 percent of the construction work force is foreign-born. In Nevada, one in three construction workers come from abroad, and in Florida the share of immigrants exceeds 30 percent. In addition, New Jersey and District of Columbia register shares in excess of 30 percent.
The reliance on foreign born labor continues to spread outside of these traditional immigrant magnets. This is evident in states like Connecticut, Georgia, and Maryland, where immigrants, as of 2013, account for more than a quarter of the construction labor force.
The majority of immigrant foreign born workers, 53 percent, come from Mexico. An additional 31 percent come from other countries in the Americas. And even though the share of Mexican workers declined slightly since 2004, the increase in the share of immigrants from the rest of Americas offset the declining share of Mexico-born immigrants. Together, they account for almost 84 percent of the immigrant construction labor force. Europeans make up close to 9 percent, and an additional 7 percent come from Asia.
While most foreign-born workers come from the Americas, Hawaii relies more heavily on Asian immigrants. European immigrants are a significant source of construction labor in North East and Midwest.