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Construction workers meeting at a building site

April 2022

The Construction Industry: Characteristics of the Employed, 2003–20

Claire McAnaw Gallagher

Construction is all around us. As children, we build with blocks and are fascinated by bulldozers. As adults, we see the strength and sweat of construction workers in the roads we drive on, the buildings we work in, and the homes we call our own. What do you think about when you think about the construction industry? If you think only of construction laborers, you might miss those in computer science or management occupations. Do you think of racial minorities? You might be surprised to learn that non-Hispanic Blacks are underrepresented in the industry. Did you know that people in the construction industry are more likely to be self-employed than the population as a whole? People working in the construction industry affect our daily lives. This Spotlight on Statistics, examines the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of construction industry workers, putting these characteristics in context by comparing them to workers overall.

One in ten construction workers is a woman

Total employment in the construction industry peaked in 2007, at 11.9 million, before falling to 9.1 million in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession (December 2007—June 2009), with smaller declines through 2012. Employment in the industry grew after 2012, reaching 11.4 million in 2019. In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment dropped to 10.8 million.

In 2020, women accounted for 1.2 million of those employed in the construction industry, or about 1 in 10, similar to recent years.

Hispanics are overrepresented in the construction industry

In 2020, 30.0 percent of construction workers were Hispanic, a share considerably higher than their 17.6-percent share of the total employed. Other racial minorities were underrepresented in the construction industry in 2020. Non-Hispanic Blacks held 5.1 percent of construction jobs, compared with their 11.8-percent share of total employment. The Non-Hispanic Asian share of construction employment was 1.8 percent, compared with 6.2 percent of total employment.

Hispanic workers’ share of construction employment increased significantly since 2003

In 2020, 60.9 percent of those employed in the construction industry were non-Hispanic Whites, down from 71.2 percent in 2003. Hispanics accounted for another 30.0 percent in 2020, up from 20.3 percent in 2003.

 

About one in five construction industry workers are in management, business, and financial operation

Employed people are classified by occupation (what kind of work they do) and industry (what kind of work their employer or business does). People in the construction industry work in a wide variety of occupations, with workers in every major occupational category.

In 2020, construction and extraction occupations (such as construction laborers, carpenters, and electricians) accounted for about three-fifths of those employed in the construction industry. Another one-fifth were employed in management, business, and financial operations occupations. Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations and office and administrative support occupations accounted for 5.7 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

Over three-fourths of Hispanics in construction work in construction and extraction occupations

In 2020, 76.3 percent of Hispanics and 61.7 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks in the construction industry were employed in construction and extraction occupations. These shares were higher than those for non-Hispanic Whites and non-Hispanic Asians (51.4 percent and 42.0 percent, respectively). 

By contrast, non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Asian construction industry workers were more likely to be in management, business, and financial operations occupations (26.2 percent and 24.8 percent, respectively) than their Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black counterparts (9.9 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively). In 2020, 14.1 percent of non-Hispanic Asians in the construction industry worked in computer, engineering, and science occupations, a higher share than for any other group.

About half of construction laborers are Hispanic

Hispanics accounted for 46.7 percent of construction laborers and 52.5 percent of painters and paperhangers, considerably higher than their share of those employed in the construction industry (30.0 percent). Relative to their share of the employed, Hispanics were underrepresented among construction managers (14.3 percent) and managers other than construction managers (14.4 percent).

Non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 60.9 percent of all those employed in the construction industry, with higher employment shares among construction managers (78.9 percent) and managers other than construction managers (78.5 percent). By contrast, 44.1 percent of construction laborers and 42.2 percent of painters and paperhangers were non-Hispanic White.

One in four construction industry workers are foreign born

People working in the construction industry were more likely than the employed overall to be foreign born. In 2020, 25.3 percent of construction industry workers were foreign born, higher than the figure of 16.8 percent for the total employed.

A majority of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Asians working in the construction industry in 2020 were foreign born. Just over two-thirds of Hispanics in the construction industry were foreign born, while less than half (45.2 percent) of all employed Hispanics were foreign born. Among Asians, 62.5 percent of construction industry workers were foreign born, compared with 68.4 percent for the employed overall.

The term "foreign born" is no indication of citizenship, only of birthplace.

Native-born workers earn more than foreign-born workers across all industries

Among full-time wage and salary workers, the native born earned more than the foreign born, both for the construction industry and for the nation overall—$1,031 versus $786 and $1,000 versus $885, respectively.

It should be noted that differences in earnings reflect a variety of factors, including variations in the distributions of foreign-born and native-born workers by educational attainment, occupation, industry, and geographic region. In addition, earnings data for 2020 reflect the effect of steep pandemic-related job losses. These data exclude incorporated, self-employed workers. 

Percent of construction workers 55 and older almost doubles

Between 2003 and 2020, the percentage of construction workers who were age 55 and over nearly doubled, from 11.5 percent to 22.7 percent. In part, this increase reflects the aging of the population. For the employed overall, the share of those age 55 and over increased from 15.4 percent to 23.9 percent over the same period. The increase was more pronounced for the construction industry, however, than for employment overall.

Non-Hispanic Asian construction workers more likely to be age 55 or older

In 2020, youth ages 16 to 24 years were underrepresented in the construction industry (9.4 percent) relative to their share among the employed overall (11.6 percent). About two-thirds of those employed in the construction industry were ages 25 to 54 – ages when people are most likely to be working – and slightly higher than for the employed overall (64.5 percent). For construction workers, 22.7 percent were age 55 and over, compared with 23.9 percent of workers overall.

Nearly 1 in 3 non-Hispanic Asian construction workers were age 55 or older, considerably higher than the proportion in that age category for all employed Asians (19.4 percent). In the construction industry, 28.0 percent of non-Hispanic Whites and 21.4 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks were age 55 and older. Hispanic construction workers were least likely to be age 55 or over, at 12.0 percent.

Union membership in the construction industry declined between 2003 and 2020

Since 2003, union membership overall has declined. In 2003, 8.2 percent of private wage and salary workers were union members; by 2020, the share had declined to 6.3 percent. Construction industry workers were more likely to belong to a union, but union membership in construction also declined over this period, from 16.0 percent to 12.7 percent.

In the construction industry, non-Hispanic Whites are most likely to be union members

For all race and ethnicity groups, construction workers were more likely to be union members than were all private wage and salary workers. Rates were higher among non-Hispanic Whites (15.2 percent) and non-Hispanic Blacks (12.7 percent) than among Hispanics (8.7 percent) and non-Hispanic Asians (7.6 percent) in 2020.

Union members earn more in the construction industry

From 2003 through 2020, among private wage and salary workers, union members had higher earnings than those who did not belong to unions. For the construction industry, median usual weekly earnings for union members were $1,254 in 2020, $334 more than for those who were not in a union. Median usual weekly earnings for union members for the nation overall were $1,089 in 2020, or $141 more than for nonunion workers.

In 2020, median usual weekly earnings for nonunion workers in the construction industry ($920) were close to the median earnings for all nonunion workers ($948).

These data exclude incorporated, self-employed workers.

Construction industry workers are generally less likely to have attended college

In 2020, over half (56.4 percent) of construction industry workers had a high school diploma or had not completed high school. This was nearly double the percentage for the employed overall (30.2 percent). Construction industry workers were much less likely than the employed overall to have a bachelor’s degree or higher—17.9 percent versus 44.1 percent.

With regard to race and ethnicity, 38.4 percent of Hispanics in the construction industry had less than a high school education, a much higher percentage than for non-Hispanic Asians, non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanic Whites. By contrast, 46.8 percent of non-Hispanic Asian construction industry workers had a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is more than double the rate for all other race and ethnicity groups.

These data include only workers age 25 or older.

Almost one in four construction workers is self-employed

The number of self-employed construction workers peaked at 2.9 million in 2007, prior to the 2007 to 2009 recession, and had dropped to 2.3 million by 2012. This number represents a 19.4 percent decrease in construction self-employment, while the total number of construction workers dropped by 24.4 percent.

In 2020, 2.5 million construction workers were self-employed, representing 23.3 percent of total employment in the industry and more than twice the rate of workers in all industries.

Self-employed workers include both those with incorporated and unincorporated businesses.

More information

Claire McAnaw Gallagher is a division chief in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For questions about this Spotlight, please email gallagher.claire@bls.gov.

The data in this Spotlight are from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly nationwide sample survey of approximately 60,000 households. The CPS does not include people living in institutions or those on active duty in the Armed Forces.

All estimates are annual averages and are based on worker’s sole or primary job. Estimates are for employed people age 16 and over with the exception of educational attainment figures, which are for those age 25 and over. Unless otherwise noted, estimates are for all workers in the construction industry and include all classes of workers (private sector, government, self-employed and unpaid). Data for the construction industry reflect all CPS respondents who indicated that they worked in the construction industry.

People who are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may be of any race.

For more information on labor force statistics by occupation and industry, see the CPS page on labor force characteristics.

For more information on earnings by occupation and industry, see the CPS page on earnings