Immigrant construction workers continue to make up a historic number of total construction workers, but the number of native-born construction workers noticeably increased in 2019, dropping the total share of immigrant workers. The American Community Survey found the number of immigrant workers in construction reached 2.8 million in 2019, accounting for 24% of the total workforce, a slight drop from the record-high share of 24.4% in 2016. Immigrant workers in construction remain a vital source of labor, says the National Association of Home Builders. Although native-born workers did increase, the annual flow of immigrant workers continues to decrease.
Another contributing factor to the recently declining share of immigrants was a noticeable decrease in the inflow of newly arrived immigrants into the construction work force. Just over 44,000 new immigrants entered the construction industry in 2017 and additional 56,000 in 2018. This is a substantial drop even compared to 2016, when over 67,000 new immigrants joined in. In comparison, over 130,000 new immigrants were joining the construction labor force annually in 2004 and 2005.
NAHB’s earlier research showed that over the last 15 years, the time span these data are available, the annual flow of new immigrant workers into construction remained highly correlated with measures of new home construction, especially new single-family starts. The number of newly arrived immigrants in construction rose rapidly when housing starts were rising and declined precipitously when the housing industry was contracting. The response of immigration has been quite rapid, occurring in the same year as a change in the single-family construction activity. This correlation broke in 2017 when NAHB’s estimates showed a surprising drop in the number of new immigrants in construction despite steady gains in housing starts.