The nation’s construction industry is becoming increasingly staffed by Hispanics, with the biggest growth among workers who are undocumented, according to a new report.
New figures Wednesday from the Pew Hispanic Center show that overall construction employment nationwide rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006. But the number of Hispanics employed in the industry rose 14.5 percent during the same period.
More significant, the report states that the number of recently arrived Hispanics — those who entered the United States no earlier than 2000 — was up 43.1 percent. And the authors of the study believe that two-thirds of the re- cent arrivals are not in this country legally.
Overall, Hispanics make up slightly more than 13 percent of the more than 144.7 million people in the workforce last year.
Pew also has noted in previous studies that more than one-third of Arizona construction jobs were held by undocumented workers.
The study was published at a time when the Arizona Legislature is trying to craft a law that would force employers to verify that their workers are in the country legally.
Business owners who continue to employ illegal immigrants could face stiff fines or other sanctions.
In the absence of any meaningful penalties, employers in the construction industry will likely continue to hire undocumented workers because they often work for lower wages, according to research published by Daniel Griswold, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian public policy research foundation in Washington, D.C.
The problem is compounded by an ongoing labor shortage in Arizona’s construction industry.
The boom in home construction in recent years has led many employers to raise staffing levels, in some cases with undocumented workers.
Construction is one of several industries that could struggle to fill the void if there is a crackdown on illegal workers, according to Griswold’s research.
“Low-skilled immigrants benefit the U.S. economy by filling jobs for which the large majority of American workers are overqualified and unwilling to fill,” he told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2005. “Large and important sectors of the U.S. economy — hotels and motels, restaurants, agriculture, construction, light manufacturing, health care, retailing, and other services — depend on low-skilled immigrant workers to remain competitive.”
According to the Pew study, the growth in jobs of all types held by Hispanics mirrors the increasing number of Hispanics in the U.S.
But that pattern is more pronounced in the construction industry, the study concluded.
“The vast majority of new construction jobs in 2006 were filled by foreign-born Latinos, many of them recently arrived,” the report states.
Raw numbers support that conclusion: One in four construction jobs in 2006 was held by a Hispanic worker, with one in five by someone who was born in another country.
The figures, which were based on reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, also show that construction employment grew 5 percent between 2005 and 2006.
But Hispanic employment in the industry was up 14.5 percent.
Put another way, two-thirds of the net new employment in construction came from Hispanics.
More pronounced was a 43 percent jump in the number of foreign-born Hispanics in construction, which has been absorbing a large percentage of new arrivals.
Nearly 30 percent of those who entered this country after 1999 have worked in construction.
Roger Yohem, vice president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, said his members would not necessarily know how many undocumented workers are employed in the industry.
He said the home builders hire subcontractors who, in turn, hire individual workers.
But Yohem said it would be reasonable to assume that a site-by-site check would yield some employees who are in this country illegally.
He said that is why his organization supports creation of a new federal guest-worker program to ensure that contractors have the help they need.