John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a home-building analysis firm, blamed, in part, the “increasingly restrictive immigration policies” since 2007 on what the believe is a shortage of workers in the construction industry. It raises two questions. First, what immigration restrictions, and second, have they looked at unemployment data recently?
The firm says that there are 570,000 fewer Mexican-born construction workers in the U.S. today compared to the industry’s peak in 2007. The total number of workers in the industry is down 1.3 million from its 2006 peak, so the firm concludes that many Mexican workers returned to Mexico during the economic downturn and haven't returned because of tighter immigration controls put in place since then.
Since 2007, Congress hasn’t passed a single bill reducing the number of legal foreign workers who can enter the United States, nor has it passed any legislation increasing immigration enforcement. If anything, the Obama Administration’s policies have relaxed immigration enforcement to the point where it’s much easier for an illegal alien to live and work in the United States today than it was in 2007. But the firm uses a voluntary increase in E-Verify usage to back its claim.
Putting the enforcement issue aside, let’s examine the unemployment data and the profile of construction workers in the United States. Non-supervisory construction workers tend to be less-educated, and these are the very Americans that have failed to recover from the jobs recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73.7% of construction laborers have a high school degree or less. Another 16.8% have some college, but no degree.
The Center for Immigration Studies breaks down unemployment data for American workers by educational attainment. According to their most recent analysis, which examined data from the second quarter of 2015, there are 3.4 million native-born Americans with a high school degree or less that are unemployed and looking for work. Within this group, 921,000 are Black Americans and 600,000 are Hispanic native-born Americans. There are another 690,000 immigrants with a high school degree or less that are currently looking for work.
These figures don’t include the number of native-born Americans and immigrants who have a high school degree or less and have either given up on their job search or settled for part-time work while they look for a full-time job.
The Wall Street Journal talked to two construction managers with differing opinions. Houston-based manager, Roy Weatherford, said the industry needs more recruitment and training to bring in young people, while Denver-based manager, John Van Dyk said Congress needs to open up more channels for foreign-workers through immigration policy.
Exactly half of the 3.4 million native-born Americans with a high school degree or less that are looking for work are between the ages of 18 and 29. Mr. Weatherford may be on to something!
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Oct 6th 2015 @ 2:05pm EDT