Construction increasingly depends on immigrant workers

The deaths of six immigrant workers in the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore on March 26 shines a light on the critical role of foreign-born labor in construction. Foreign-born labor may not be formally well educated but they increasingly provide the muscle for much of construction, repair and maintenance.  These are some of the highest paying jobs for workers without advanced formal skills and without English proficiency.

The latest American Community Survey data of 2022 show that 11.8 million workers, including self-employed and temporarily unemployed, comprised the construction workforce in 2022. Out of these, 8.9 million were native-born, and 2.9 million or 25% were foreign-born, the highest number of immigrant workers in construction ever recorded by the ACS. (Go here).

In New York and New Jersey, 37% of the construction workforce were foreign born, according to a 2020 report br the the National Association of Home Builders. Nationwide, the growth of the U.S. born construction workforce has lagged well behind that of the foreign-born workforce. (Go here).



The decline then rise of the unauthorized population

The Center for Migration Studies estimates that the size of the unauthorized population in the U.S, grew by about 6% between 2021 and 2022, to reach 10,940. This was the largest one year increase since the early 2000s when upwards million were added in some years.

After about 2008, the unauthorized population remained between stable and slightly declining. The pandemic years, according to the Center, reverse this trend. The 2022 remains slightly lower than the peak reached in about 2008, which was 11 – 11.5 million.

Unauthorized migration for Mexico has been declining for some years and is the major reason for the decline. Central American migration, on the other hand, has surged.  Over the past 25 years, the Mexican share of unauthorized persons has declined from about 2/3 to 40%. Still, about 10% of the Mexican working age population is in the United States.

The Center used the American Community Survey to estimate the size of the unauthorized population. this is understandably a process fraught with risks of mis-estimation.

Why do I use the term unauthorized instead of undocumented or illegal? Because I think is the most meaningful for the three options.

What is the cause of the surge? The Center does not speculate. I suspect it has to do with the demand and rising wages for workers in occupations often populated wih unauthorized persons. the financial crisis in the late 2000s killed off the rise in this population. It is plausible that the better fortunes of workers in the lower formally educated cohorts are driving the reversal.



How immigration will affect the presidential election

Here in few words how immigration will affect the presidential election: Biden will attempt to recover from a (correct in my view) casual approach to the border crisis, which is actually a number of crises.  Trump, with complete control over Republican messaging, is already calling for revengeful, draconian policies that resonant with many Republicans but leave independents cold.  The independent electorate, if it perceives that Biden is consistently addressing the border crisis as they define it, will settle back to their normal view of immigration as a positive thing for the country that they don’t really want to pay much attention to. Here are five polls which pretty much tell the same story of Biden’s challenge.

Immigration has risen sharply in saliency among voters, from the low – mid tens to the 20s. This is reflected in three separate polls, noted below.

Note, however, that the immigration issue as presented in the political arena focuses only on immigration which is publicly viewed as “illegal.” It was not a slip of the tongue when Biden referred to “illegal” instead of the legalistic term “undocumented” in his State of the Union speech.  I expect that the White House knows full well that the crisis of “illegal” migration embraces pretty much all activity on the Mexican border: individuals and families seeking asylum, those seeking to avoid detection on entry, drug smuggling, sex trafficking.

The bipartisan bill was designed to address all these issues. Below, I report on broad support for the bipartisan bill.

the Center for Immigration Studies summarizes three polls — Gallup, Wall Street  Journal, and Fox News —  all circling around the came core observations that the electorate other than Democrats are very worried about the border crisis, and that Biden is losing on this issue in large numbers.

The Trump team is attempting to leverage this sharply higher salience over the border to a broad assault on all existing unauthorized residents,  Bannon’s statement in late February calls for mass deportations, presumably all 11 million, and also calls for a complete dismantling of the asylum program. Typical with Trump’s instincts, he pushes away more people than he attracts. Americans do not want to see photos of police arresting people at their homes or work, nor do they want photos of large detention centers.

Support for the bipartisan bill  is strong among independents. Self-identifying independent voters rose from about 30% of voters in the 2000s to about 40% today.

A fourth poll Third Way poll shows strong support for the bipartisan bill among independents. The poll breaks the bill down to 12 provisions. In ten of the provisions, independents approved of five between 60 and 69%, and in five more between at or above 70%, for instance “emergency powers to close borders”  and “new federal powers for drug enforcement.” Receiving well less support are two, including “builds more detention centers” (39%).

There is a fifth poll– Marist.  This poll amplifies what I noted above. It shows that Biden must demonstrate that he had a credible, bipartisan plan to control the border

Independents are more than twice as likely to choose the Republicans (38%) rather than the Democrats (17%) when it comes to handling the issue of immigration. However, more than three in ten independents (31%) think neither party can adequately address the issue

44% of independents think increasing security at the United States-Mexico border to reduce illegal crossings should be the top immigration priority.

Only 14% of Americans say deporting those who entered the country illegally should be the top priority for immigration. This is the constituency which Trump is focusing on.

55% of independents think America’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation.






March 2024 poll on immigration

A Wall Steet Journal poll:

Support the bipartisan package: 59%

Support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and pass a background check: 74%

Support creating a mechanism for Dreamers to gain citizenship: 66%

Support increasing the level of legal immigration to the U.S.: 58%

Rank immigration as their top issue: 20%, up from 13% in December and above any other topic, including the economy.

Agree with the statement that Biden had allowed more illegal immigration by reversing executive orders that Trump had put in place as president: 45%

Republicans killed the bipartisan deal in the Senate: 39%


The surge in AI jobs and American advantage

The United States has a large lead over all other countries in top-tier AI research, with nearly 60% of top-tier researchers working for American universities and companies. The US lead is built on attracting international talent, with more than two-thirds of the top-tier AI researchers working in the United States having received undergraduate degrees in other countries. (Go here.)

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Amazon has cut jobs across several areas in recent months, citing changing priorities across its businesses that include AI. Google parent Alphabet has been working to marshal resources toward developments in AI while also cutting back on spending. UPS, which plans to cut about 12,000 jobs this year, has been increasing its use of AI and machine-learning tools. And last week, Apple abandoned a decadelong electric-car project and will be redeploying some employees to work on AI efforts.

“In a recent survey Aon conducted among some of its tech clients, about three-quarters of companies said AI skills justify a pay premium, meaning higher compensation for the median new hire relative to that of existing employees.”





Hotel staffing shortages and immigration

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Hotel owners have been on an epic hiring spree. Yet even after clawing back hundreds of thousands of jobs during the past two years, the industry is still light on staff and often struggling to adapt.   Daily housekeeping for all guests, room service and other amenities that were reduced or eliminated during the pandemic are still lacking at many properties.”

A 2010 survey of hotel housekeepers in the U.S. found that two-thirds were born outside the U.S. The largest groups were born in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and East Asia. As of today, easily half of housekeeping staff are foreign born. For the entire U.S. workforce, 18% are foreign born. For all hotel staff, about 20% – 30% are foreign born..

CBO ties population growth to immigration

For the 30 years between 2024 and 2054, the Congressional Budget Office predicts:  Population growth generally slows over the next 30 years, from 0.6 percent per year, on average, between 2024 and 2034 to 0.2 percent per year, on average, between 2045 and 2054. Net immigration increasingly drives population growth and accounts for all population growth beginning in 2040, in part because fertility rates remain below the rate that would be required for a generation to replace itself in the absence of immigration.

This projection accounts only for foreign-born persons coming to the U.S. It does not take account that these foreign born persons are more likely than the U.S.born population to be of child bearing age. Hence their offspring – 2nd generation immigration contribute relatively more to population growth.