Construction Employment Followup: Luring Workers Back is Now Our Big Problem

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 1:26 AM EDT

Yesterday I wondered how long it would take for employment to rebound in the construction industry now that housing is once again in demand. The New York Times suggests it might still be a while:

In many areas, builders are scrambling to ramp up production but face delays because of the difficulty of finding construction workers and in obtaining permits from suddenly overwhelmed local authorities.

....Many workers in the immigrant-heavy industry have left the area, returning to Mexico and other points south. Others pursued work in Texas’s energy boom, where both drilling and construction jobs have become more plentiful....Some, like the 38-year-old electrician Gideon Jacks, are gingerly returning to construction work after taking a hiatus (in Mr. Jacks’s case, the hiatus was in several low-paying jobs at restaurants), but others remain reluctant to return to the hard physical labor and unstable job prospects.

“They say, ‘That’s the last time I’m riding that roller coaster,’ ” said Rick Wylie, president of the Beutler Corporation, a Sacramento air-conditioning and plumbing company. In 2005 he employed 2,100 workers, but by 2009 Beutler had only 270 employees. Mr. Wylie, who currently employs about 550, is now having trouble luring back many workers he let go.

“I don’t mean to complain,” he said. “This is a good problem to have, a world-class problem, to not be able to find workers to do all the work you’re getting.”

I don't know quite how seriously to take this kind of anecdotal evidence, but figured I'd pass it along. If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, this is good news because it means lots of jobs are opening up. If you're a glass-half-empty kind of person, it's discouraging news because it means structural problems are getting in the way of recovery. For now, I'll vote for the former. I imagine that in this case, all it takes is a little bit of extra money to hire enough workers to get all those houses built. As long as the demand is there, supply will follow.

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