Economy

Construction Worker Shortage Acute After Hurricanes

An industry already short on workers will need creative solutions in order to quickly rebuild TX and FL.

Business Review Board · Sep. 12, 2017

The demand for construction workers, which was already high before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, will now become even more acute as Texas and Florida seek to rebuild. Just this past June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 225,000 construction job openings — a 30% jump from last year and a 125% increase since 2012. The Associated General Contractors of America anticipates that a whopping 86% of construction firms nationwide will be seeking to hire workers.

The trouble is there’s a shortage of workers. And that shortage is not due to low pay, as construction workers and day laborers’ wages have steadily increased. In Texas, for example, carpenters’ wages have increased 55% in just three years to an average of $25 an hour. There are three primary factors that have contributed to the shortage. First, after the last housing boom and ensuing downturn, a lot of construction workers left the industry, either for other jobs or retirement. Second, there are fewer young men pursuing trade and vocational education, further depleting the pool. Third, Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration has impacted the industry.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a significant amount of the cleanup and rebuilding was done by illegal alien workers. In Louisiana 29% of construction workers were illegals; in Texas it was 23% and in Florida 15%. That’s by no means a recommendation for illegal labor but rather an explanation for the shortage.

It’s estimated that around 30,000 homes were destroyed by Harvey in Houston, and the damage from Irma is yet to be assessed. Fortunately, Florida was spared greater damage by Irma’s ultimate course, but homes and businesses statewide will need repairs and the rebuilding will be going on for years to come.

First, Trump should work with Congress on an Irma disaster relief package that includes more guest-worker visas to immediately cover worker shortages. Second, more young people should be encouraged to seek vocational skills and apprenticeship programs, which can set them on rewarding career paths while avoiding higher educational debt. The truth is that college isn’t for everyone, but work is. Especially when rebuilding from hurricanes.

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