Drive by any housing project, notice who’s working, and one realizes home construction depends heavily on immigrant labor. Yahoo’s Melody Hahm writes, “The tight supply in home construction results from a shortage in able construction workers. And, given President Donald Trump’s aggressive ambitions to crack down on undocumented immigrants, homebuilders may have an even tougher time finding workers in the future, according to [Lawrence] Yun.”
With the border being much tighter, it may lead to a greater construction worker shortage.
A framer or carpenter may have the skills, but if he or she doesn’t have the papers, the Trump administration intends, “to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations,” reports The New York Times.
Back in 2006, Sanjay Bhatt, writing in The Seattle Times, pointed out that “Locally, many inspectors, construction foremen and union organizers estimate that in the last few years [illegal immigrants] have come to represent anywhere from half to 90 percent of the work force at residential job sites in the Puget Sound region. They dominate unskilled-labor crews and are prevalent among drywallers, framers, roofers and other semiskilled trades.” It was (and is) no different in Las Vegas, Atlanta, or anywhere else where houses are being built.
Mr. Yun, who is the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist, tells Hahm, “It’s widely known but less discussed that there are many undocumented workers at construction sites. And with the border being much tighter, it may lead to a greater construction worker shortage unless America can crank out people with the skills in construction, plumbing, lumber framing, and welding,”
Mr. Yun should know that here in the U.S. we want every able bodied person to go to college and be, as the song goes, doctors, lawyers and such. The National Center of Education Statistics provides the numbers, “Of the 1,870,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2013–14, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (358,000), health professions and related programs (199,000), social sciences and history (173,000), psychology (117,000), biological and biomedical sciences (105,000), and education (99,000). At the master's degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (189,000), education (155,000), and health professions and related programs (97,000).”
America is turning out business majors, not framers and bricklayers. “The US has approximately 200,000 unfilled construction jobs, which represents an 81% increase over the last two years, according to estimates from the National Association of Homebuilders,” writes Hahm.
“Homebuilders keep delaying as to when they can dig the ground,” Mr. Yun said. “They’re actively looking for workers, but there just aren’t enough.”
While Mr. Trump campaigned on the idea that illegal immigrants are flooding the borders, the fact is, after the housing crash, most workers scattered, many back to their native countries. “The construction industry in the U.S. has lost 570,000 Mexican workers since 2007, many of whom have likely returned to their home country and will not return to the U.S. because of increased immigration control and economic opportunities in Mexico, according to a report released Monday,” wrote Kelly Knaub for Law.360.com in 2015.
Two-thirds of builders can’t find enough carpenters and framers.
With young people being lured to college, the average age of skilled construction labor is increasing fast. “That’s what keeps me up at night,” Doug Bauer, CEO, TRI Pointe Homes, said in a statement released in a report by John Burns Real Estate Consulting. “Electricians, plumbers, framers — their average age is about 50.”
The report says two-thirds of builders can’t find enough carpenters and framers, and 40 to 50 percent of other builders say they can’t hire enough masons, painters, electricians, plumbers and roofers.
Five years ago 53 percent of skilled-trade workers were more than 45 years old, and nearly 20 percent were aged 55-64. Those percentages have only gone up since.
Immigrants have built this nation from the beginning. Chinese and Irish immigrants built the transcontinental railroad. Mr. Trump’s home town of New York is dominated by immigrant-controlled neighborhoods. “Of the 55 [New York] City neighborhoods defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, nine have immigrant populations that exceed 50 percent of the neighborhood’s total population. In another ten, immigrants account for between 40 percent and 50 percent of the total population,” states a report from the New York state Controller.
As for immigrants from south of the border, a NBER study “has found that low-skilled Mexican immigrants are more responsive to changes in employment, and are quick to relocate when there is a period of high unemployment in the area they live in.” This flexibility is good for the U.S. economy which often has a number of jobs that go unfilled.
Fewer immigrants means less skilled labor, higher prices, and fewer homes built. How can this make America great again?