In fact, there are more undocumented immigrants
working in Texas than there are unemployed people, says M. Ray Perryman, an economist and president of Waco, Texas-based The Perryman Group.
“In other words,” Perryman adds, “the state would be
left with a huge gap (several hundred thousand work-
ers) without the undocumented workforce, even if
every unemployed person took a job.”
An estimated 226,000 undocumented workers are
employed in Texas’ construction industry alone, data
from the Migration Policy Institute shows. Perryman
says the need for immigrant workers in the state’s
construction industry is particularly acute at this time.
“With the current growth in Texas and the massive
rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath
of Hurricane Harvey, there remains a notable shortage
[of construction workers],” Perryman says.
A recent NAHB study estimated that, in terms of the
actual body count, there were 5 percent fewer immi-
grants in the construction field in 2016 than a decade
earlier. The study also points out that “the flow of
immigrants into the construction workforce is signifi-
cantly slower compared to the housing-boom years.”
Despite the nation’s heavy reliance on both legal
and undocumented immigrants in the construction
trades, official U.S. policy now calls for clamping down
hard on new immigration while also ramping up a
nationwide deportation dragnet. “On top of that, this
administration wants to pour billions of dollars into
infrastructure improvements across the nation, which
is great, but that takes the few construction workers
we have away from the housing industry even more,”
Metrostudy’s Boud says. “Then, add the border wall
into the mix … and it just puts that more pressure on
Both Dietz and Boud say, short of an unlikely change
in immigration policy in the near future that opens up
more avenues for foreign-born workers in the U.S.,
enter the homebuying market. That growing demand,
however, is exacerbating an already-tight supply of
housing — fueling rising home prices and an afford-
ability crunch that is putting homeownership beyond
the reach of many first-time homebuyers.
“We’re not building enough homes right now,” says
Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Associ-
ation of Home Builders (NAHB). “That’s [a major reason]
why home prices are growing faster than incomes, and
that’s not what you want.”
One way to help the market get out of that bind is to
build more homes, but that requires even more work-
ers in a labor market now near or at full employment.
That conundrum is compounded by the construction
sector’s historical reliance on foreign-born workers.
“Obviously, there’s a challenge,” says Mark Boud,
chief economist with housing-research service Metro-study, a Hanley Wood company. “We haven’t brought
back nearly enough workers to the construction industry [since the Great Recession] that we need to, especially in residential construction, where immigrants
make up nearly a quarter of that workforce.
“The challenge with the current [Trump] administra-
tion [and its immigration policies] is that a lot of those
[foreign-born] workers have gone underground, and
that’s hurting construction as well as other industries
Data from NAHB indicates that immigrant labor-
ers (both legal and undocumented) compose about
24 percent of the nation’s construction workforce. The
Pew Research Center estimates that undocumented
immigrants alone represent about 13 percent of the
nation’s construction labor force.
Based on a survey conducted by NAHB this past July,
more than 50 percent of the builders polled reported
labor shortages across 11 key construction-trade occupations, including carpenters, electricians, roofers,
masons, painters and framing crews. U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics data show that, as of this past January,
the labor shortage had not abated, with the construction sector recording some 250,000 job openings
On a regional level, some states along the border
are particularly reliant on foreign-born workers for
construction labor, according to a study prepared for
the NAHB. In California and Texas, for example, immigrants comprise some 42 percent and 41 percent of the
construction labor force, respectively.
another way to address the construction-industry
labor shortage is to increase the number of U.S. citizens
in the construction field. That is a formidable challenge,
however, given many younger workers today “are far
more interested in tech jobs and other industries
where jobs are already plentiful and oftentimes pay
is better,” Boud says.
Another option is to increase the industry’s productivity through strategies such as expanding the number of factory-built homes and increasing automation
at the construction site itself, according to Dietz.
Still, that is a long-term solution that will likely take
decades to achieve, because it’s dependent on a massive retooling the nation’s construction industry.
Given the pressing nature of the inventory shortage
in the housing sector today, however, pursuing only
longer-term solutions might require a luxury of time
that the nation’s housing market can ill afford. Other
issues, such U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber, are contributing to the affordable-housing crisis in America.
Still, addressing immigration issues in the U.S. rationally,
Perryman points out, could alleviate labor-supply
issues in the short term and provide a sure-footed path
to increasing housing supply, promoting housing afford-ability and fostering wealth creation in middle America.
“A thoughtful, rational and sustainable immigration
policy will help alleviate [labor] shortages in the construction sector and across the economy,” Perryman
says. “It should rightfully consider safety and security
concerns, but it should also recognize that the U.S. is
currently at full employment, even with the undocumented workers that we have now. [A rational immigration policy] should also ensure that a growing
economy, with an aging population, [will] not be artificially impeded from future prosperity.” n
By Bill Conroy
homes right now.”
National Association of Home Builders
The housing industry faces an immigration challenge
Bill Conroy is editor in chief of Scotsman Guide Media.