Report | Immigration

The contraction in construction squeezed immigrants hardest

Briefing Paper #321

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Press Release: Loss of construction employment in the Great Recession hit immigrants particularly hard

The rise and dramatic collapse of the housing boom signaled the beginning of the Great Recession and displaced nearly three million construction workers, with foreign-born non-citizen males facing particularly steep job loss, a new EPI briefing paper finds.  In the research paper, The contraction in construction squeezed immigrants hardest, EPI labor economist Heidi Shierholz examines how the Great Recession affected foreign-born and native-born construction workers.

From 2007 to 2010, construction employment among foreign-born non-citizen males fell 30.1%, compared with 21.6% among native-born males. While both groups experienced significant job losses, foreign-born non-citizen workers were more heavily concentrated in the lower-paying and harder-hit residential construction jobs than native-born workers were.  Construction jobs outside of residential construction experienced somewhat less steep declines, in part because the infrastructure projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created and saved jobs.

The median wage for native-born male construction workers grew by 7.6% to $19.24, while the median wage for foreign-born non-citizen males declined by 3.1% to $12.04 from 2006 to 2010.  The purging of lower-paying residential jobs and compositional shift towards higher paying sectors, disproportionately occupied by native-born workers, helps explains the hike in average wages.

Despite facing a greater loss of jobs, foreign-born non-citizen males had a lower rate of long-term unemployment and were more likely to drop out of the construction labor force or leave the country.

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