Hurricane Katrina, a construction boom, and a new labor force: Latino immigrants and the New Orleans construction industry, 2000 and 2006–2010.

Sisk, Blake, and Carl L. Bankston. 

Population Research and Policy Review 33, no. 3 (2014): 309-334.


Disasters provide opportunities to study the social and economic dimensions of large-scale shifts. Drawn by the surge in demand for low-skill construction workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Latino immigrants represented a substantial share of the New Orleans reconstruction workforce. Scholars, however, have yet to examine how the increased presence of immigrants affected U.S.-born workers in New Orleans. In this analysis, we investigate how the influx of Latino immigrant construction workers shaped the demographic composition and occupational-wage structure of the New Orleans construction sector. Using IPUMS-U.S.A. data from the 2000 and 2006–2010 periods for the New Orleans MSA, we employ logistic and multinomial logistic regression models to analyze a sample of 3,206 foreign-born Latinos, U.S.-born whites, U.S.-born blacks, and others employed in the construction industry. Our analysis indicates that the probability of U.S.-born workers being employed in construction remained stable from the pre- to post-storm period, even as we find evidence of an emerging immigrant employment niche in the post-Katrina construction industry. After the storm, however, Latino immigrants were much more heavily concentrated in occupations at the bottom end of the construction industry’s wage structure, while the relative position of U.S.-born workers improved across the two periods. Together, these findings show that disasters, like other structural shifts, can yield the conditions that produce immigrant employment niches. Moreover, our results indicate that while employment niches provide economic opportunities for the foreign-born, they can also intensify the disadvantage experienced by immigrant workers.

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