Builders feel pinch of fewer young workers

Posted by on November 14th, 2018

There is a shortage of construction workers, especially in the Northeast and California.

The nation lost tens of thousands of workers during the economic downturn. Even as demand has returned, the industry is having trouble replenishing its ranks.

The share of workers 24 years old or younger has declined in 48 states, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data. After hitting a peak of 11.7 million during the Housing Boom years, the number of construction workers fell to 10.2 million by 2016.

States hit hardest by the housing bust saw the greatest decrease in younger workers between 2005 and 2010, led by Delaware, Vermont, Maryland, California and Arizona.

Home construction per household has dropped to the lowest level in 60 years – a big reason why U.S. home prices are rising, and why the home ownership rate remains stuck a full percentage point below the 50-year average.

Construction’s inability to attract young workers is something of a mystery.

Builders’ rising costs are partly to blame. They don’t want to waste time and money on workers who aren’t already trained.

The pursuit of four-year college degrees may also steer young people from construction. Despite solid, union-based wages, there is somewhat of a stigma attached to skilled labor careers careers. Technical schools continue to struggle to find students, despite their relative affordability.

But these jobs are essential to the infrastructure supporting the rest of the economy, and many local high schools are bringing back construction and shop classes that were cut during the recession.

Some economists say the construction industry could attract more workers if builders raised wages. But builders say paying workers more will only raise the price of homes even further.

Builders have instead begun a broader search for workers, approaching nonprofits with clients who may be struggling to pay rent or buy food and can be recruited to higher-paying jobs.