After sharp decline during recession, illegal immigrant population shows signs of a rebound alongside construction

Updated Sep 24, 2013

Pew Research Hispanic Population 2013A new report released today by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project indicates the sharp recession-induced decline of illegal immigrants living in the United States has stalled.

Traditionally drawn to occupations in construction and the service sector, the illegal immigrant population peaked at 12.2 million in 2007, but declined with the recession as the housing market collapsed, taking many construction jobs with it.

When the recession hit, the estimated number of illegal immigrants living in the United States fell to 11.3 million in 2009, effectively reversing a trend of increases held in place for decades. The study found indications the population is now once again rising, although the 2012 and 2009 population estimates are not significantly different.

Despite stricter immigration laws, population estimates have gradually increased since 2009 and as of March 2012 11.7 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States. Meanwhile, construction demand is higher than it has been in years with construction spending is at its highest mark since June 2009.

Pew nor anyone else have established a hardline connection between the shared rebound of construction and the illegal immigrant population, but with a large demand for workers at firms across the country—both skilled and rookies—it makes for an interesting question: Will some of these firms feel it necessary to employ undocumented immigrants just to meet demand?

On a state-to-state basis, a range of trends have appeared. Of the six states in which 60 percent of all illegal immigrants live—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas—only Texas had increases with no decreases in the unauthorized population from 2007 to 2011.

California, Illinois and New York had only declines during the same period. The data also indicates the foreign-born population is moving into new areas; while 60 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population was concentrated in these six states in 2012, that number has declined from 80 percent in 1990.

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For more information on the report or to see additional trends, visit the report “Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed,” at