Construction Booming In Texas, But Many Workers Pay Dearly

Like almost everything in the Texas, the construction industry in the Lone Star State is big. One in every 13 workers here is employed in the state's $54 billion-per-year construction industry.

Homebuilding and commercial construction may be an economic driver for the state, but it's also an industry riddled with hazards. Years of illegal immigration have pushed wages down, and accidents and wage fraud are common. Of the nearly 1 million workers laboring in construction here, approximately half are undocumented.

Many of those workers have been in the U.S. for years, even decades. This critical mass of eager, mostly Hispanic workers means it's possible for a family from New York or California to move to Texas and buy a brand new, five-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home for $160,000.

Just how cheap is the cheap labor in Texas? Sometimes, it's free. Guillermo Perez, 41, is undocumented and has been working commercial construction jobs in Austin for 13 years.

"[The employer] said he didn't have the money to pay me and he owed me $1,200," Perez says of one job. "I told him that I'm going to the Texas Workforce Commission, which I did. Then after that, he came back two weeks later and paid me."

Perez is brave. Undocumented workers are usually too afraid to complain to Texas authorities, even when they go home with empty pockets. And they almost never talk to reporters.

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