Emphasizing the Role Communities of Color Play in New York’s Construction Sector

After the unrest we saw in 2020 that spurred a national debate about social justice and racial equity, Black History Month has taken on a heightened significance this year. The ongoing discussion has elevated the importance of fostering diversity and inclusivity in all businesses – including the construction sector. It is more critical than ever that we recognize the fact that communities of color are the backbone of our industry – especially here in New York City.

Consider the following:

  • Construction Workers Were Essential During the Pandemic

Construction workers were deemed essential during the onset of the pandemic. As has been the case in a variety of industries, the majority of those who showed up day in and day out to jobsites across the five boroughs are Black. They risk their own health to assure that critical projects – many of which provide housing for vulnerable populations – stay on schedule. In addition, workers helped build field hospitals and upgrade existing health facilities, helping New York combat the virus.

  • Black Americans Are the Second Largest Minority Group in Construction

On a local and national scale, Black workers make up the second highest percentage of workforce participants in construction, behind Latinx individuals. Black New Yorkers account for nearly 16 percent of the workforce in construction, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Nationally, 6 percent of the construction workforce are Black. In fact, in 2020, 97 percent of workers placed on job sites by Building Skills were Black or Latinx. These workers are playing a key role in the ongoing economic recovery effort.

  • NYC’s Construction Industry Played A Role in the Civil Rights Movement

During the 1960s, racial discrimination was rampant and, according to the Economic Policy Institute, Black and Latinx workers had to endure discriminatory hiring practices. Most jobs available at the time were filled by white workers and some of the more skilled trades barely had any Black members at all. As a result, the Joint Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity protested at job sites and demanded jobs for Black construction workers. These demonstrations gained national attention and led the government to implement policies such as meeting hiring goals, which helped increase Black representation in the industry.