The topic of immigration reform has stirred many passionate speeches over the past few months as Congress debates new reform measures. While there are many different opinions on what needs to be done to address this growing issue, the outcome could have significant impact on the building material supply industry and construction overall. Depending on how a crackdown on illegal immigration takes place, the resulting labor shortages could have the potential to cause delays and add to the cost of new homes.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigrants account for roughly 5 percent of America's overall workforce, or about 7.2 million workers, and 20 percent of those are in construction. As we all know, worker shortages continue to plague the construction industry due in part to the aging baby boomers and to the growing number of U.S. natives receiving post-secondary educations in white-collar service fields. The proposed mass deportation of undocumented workers will bring commercial and residential production to a crawl, creating devastating effects. Immigrant labor is a vital lifeline of the construction industry that preserves prompt infrastructural development and efficient production of new housing that our economy needs to expand.

Immigration Trends According to the results from the 2004 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau:

  • More than 15 percent of the U.S. work-force was born abroad.
  • The share of immigrant workers is much higher in the construction industry than other manual-labor–based industries.
  • Fifty-four percent of immigrant construction workers come from Mexico.
  • The Western Hemisphere accounts for 80 percent of all immigrant construction workers in the U.S.
  • The two most prevalent construction trade occupations for immigrants are carpenters and construction laborers.
  • One-third of painters, masons, and roofers are immigrants.
  • Forty percent of drywall/ceiling tile installers and tapers are foreign-born.

The number of persons granted lawful permanent residence in the United States increased by more than 200,000 people between 2003 and 2004, from 706,000 to 946,000. The leading regions of origin of legal immigrants were North America and Asia. The leading source countries (of birth) for legal immigrants in 2004 were Mexico (18.5 percent), followed by India (7.4 percent), the Philippines (6.1 percent), China (5.4 percent), Vietnam (3.3 percent), and the Dominican Republic (3.2 percent). Shawn Conrad is president of NLBMDA.

Clearly this is an issue that will be closely tracked, and NLBMDA is certainly interested in this topic as it relates to the construction industry as a whole and to the workforce that contributes to the growth of the industry.

With President George W. Bush and Congress pledging to address the issues of immigration reform, many ideas, from guest-worker programs to the construction of border fencing, will be offered as solutions. NLBMDA's government affairs focus will be reviewing these “reform measures” to understand their impact on our industry. If you have a thought to share, e-mail me at [email protected].