The Construction Industry: Where the Minority Has Become the Majority

Don't fall... you might not be insured.

The multi-colored muscle behind the City’s construction industry has been revealed through an analysis of U.S. Census data, and contrary to stereotypes, a solid majority of construction workers are now drawn from minority backgrounds.

White construction workers still make up a plurality of builders in the five boroughs, but that number has fallen to 40 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 48 percent of the construction workforce. That workforce is down, as well, to 224,500 workers, a decline of 3.8 percent from the previous year.

The biggest gains were not for Hispanic workers, whose numbers actually fell 5 percent, to 80,700 or 36 percent of the labor force, but for Asian construction workers, who saw a 12 percent increase in their ranks, to 21,200 construction workers. Black construction workers saw an increase as well, a modest 2 percent, to 31,600, or 14 percent of the workforce.

“New York City’s construction industry has been and remains a vital source of meaningful employment opportunities for recent immigrants and residents of all educational backgrounds,” said New York Building Congress President Richard Anderson.

The 2010 statistics are significant because they reflect a pool of participants that includes unionized and non-unionized labor, blue-collar and white-collar workers, and perhaps most importantly, employees working “off-the-books” (data was gathered by means of a self-reported survey rather than via employers).

In a city where you can sit in a subway car and hear three different languages spoken simultaneously (more than half of participants said they speak a language other than English in their homes), maybe it should come as no surprise that NYC construction workers are a diverse bunch. Some 39 percent of the total construction industry workforce and 45 percent of all construction trades workers are non-U.S. citizens.

This can create certain problems.

If the number of uninsured New York City construction workers was disconcerting in 2009, then 2010’s numbers have only exacerbated those feelings of alarm. Digest these figures: 49 percent of all construction industry workers lacked health insurance (up from 45 percent in 2009) and 55 percent of construction trades workers were uninsured (up from 53 percent in the previous year).

A few words of advice: Kids: Wear your helmets! Construction workers: Wear your hardhats!

The Construction Industry: Where the Minority Has Become the Majority