Shortage of Rough Carpenters Climbs to Record High

Filed in Economics, Labor, Safety and Health by on September 17, 2018 17 Comments

Interior of new house under construction with open beamsThree-fourths of the total cost of building a typical home goes to subcontractors. So as they get harder to find, it’s getting especially hard for projects to stay on schedule and on budget.

Single-family builders who responded to a recent NAHB survey listed which workers they are struggling the most to find. Topping the list: shortages of rough carpenters were reported by 90% of builders — the highest-ever portion for any occupation in residential construction in the survey’s history.

NAHB economist Paul Emrath wrote about the findings in Eye On Housing and offered possible explanations for the severe shortage of subcontractors: One is that workers who were laid off during the housing downturn and subsequently started their own businesses have since returned to work for larger companies.

Regardless of the reasons, the widespread shortages continue to restrain the pace of construction, further driving up construction costs, which are increasingly being absorbed by the home buyer. However, the shortages are also affecting builders’ bottom lines by causing lost or canceled sales and making some projects unprofitable.

“Housing affordability is at a 10-year low, and that means it will become increasingly difficult to pass along higher construction costs to home buyers,” NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz wrote in the latest issue of Eye on the Economy. “Builders in many markets may find supply-related cost increases will slow sales now more than in recent years due to elevated pricing.”

Making matters worse, shortages are likely to intensify in the near term for some markets, particularly those in and around the Carolinas.

“As the impact of Hurricane Florence affects North and South Carolina — home to 9% of the nation’s single-family construction — and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic, we can expect increased demand for construction workers and higher building material costs as the region recovers,” Dietz noted. “As we saw last year in the wake of the storms that devastated portions of Texas and Florida, these impacts will lower production volume while increasing costs for a number of months in and around the affected regions.”

For more, go to Eye On Housing.

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  1. Earl Mackinder says:

    There are other regions that will suffer for lack of manpower and rising material costs such as those area wanting to recover from forest fires and flooding.

    A follow up article is needed on “Where has all the Manpower Gone?” The next time you visit your local DIY store ask a few of the floor clerks where they worked before going to work in the store: there are a bunch of 45 to 65 year olds who left the construction labor market to work inside with paid insurance benefits and retirement programs and living healthier with less stress and simplified lives. I’ve tried to hire them back and it is almost impossible to do.

    • Aaron Furr says:

      Not to mention, as minimum wages in the non-skill based work forces rise, our (construction workers) pay remains the same. So the question is, why would I want to break my back for little to no compensation? I will continue to do it because I love it, but if I can make the same amount working in the air conditioning, it’s a no brainer…

    • Christopher E. Straughn says:

      Where have all the Carpenters gone. They were taken out by schools without a shop class. I remember learning to read a ruler in elementary school. These days they don’t know after graduating high school. Then people want to blame Trump? When the liberal democrat have have been stripping our on children for decades. Take a better look at what’s been going on. The neglect is hurting what should be America first.

      • Doug Hanna says:

        The problem of disappearing trade schools, and a lost generation of carpenters, started way before Trump. Republicans want to lower taxes, slash education budgets and give vouchers to private schools. Democrats and Republicans pushed testing – based curriculum at the expense of actual learning and creativity. Meanwhile, they cut teachers pay and benefits and increase class sizes. Until this country recognizes that high quality education is the basis of a strong economy, we will continue to get smoked by China, India and Korea, etc.. Goes for carpenters and tradespeople too. Need to look beyond the next election cycle and invest in brain power and training to secure our future as a country.

  2. Harvey Quist says:

    Is it possible that the Trump administration’s hard line on immigrants has lost us workers we need? With unemployment at an all low, it seems like we should be more welcoming.

  3. Peter Anderson says:

    As a big box home improvement store manager labor is tough for us to hire as well. I love getting those folks that are retiring from the construction trades because it gives us a knowledge base in the store to support not only the homeowner DIY, but you the pro. I do agree that the labor market now is too tight and that we need to do something about allowing more H1B visa’s or else the economy will suffer and wages will continue to rise causing inflation. I have read articles that the farmers up here in the Midwest are even worse off for help than the trades are.

    • Mickey says:

      If the big box stores would pay us a decent wage and perhaps extra benefits, people my age and experience might want to work for them. I am 63, been doing this for 40+ years.

  4. Dave Hoffmann says:

    Remodeling is especially hard hit. Existing homes here in the Seattle area in need of an addition or renovation because it is too expensive to move. Good luck trying to find framers who know how to cut stick frame and meld together the old and the new.
    Trades education has just about gone out the window. The high school where I went no longer offers any shop classes. You have to go to another school in the district. Advanced placement is the norm so you can go to an institution of higher learning and get out with a degree and still not know how to figure out an angel for a rafter cut.
    Bring back trades education.

    • I agree with that Dave , We are even suffering down in Texas and we are close to the border . I believe if a program was started to show kids say as sophomores in High school .What they could be expecting to make going through the ranks of certain trades plumbing , electrical , hvac ,etc and obtaining licenses through test , that we could be showing kids that they could be making good money say by the time they are 24 -26 years old and not have to go the college route . I believe in putting them in trade schools , then summer internships where they work in the field and make money and see the fruits of there labor . I would also dovetail some business classes with the trade program to let them seek out how business works and an understanding of over head , materials ,and labor cost

      • Dave Hoffmann says:

        Scott,
        I agree with you. President Trump did not create this shortage nor is he alone going to cure it. You are so right about trade schooling and seeing the benefit of working with your hands and brain.
        Classes on marketing, math, science and trades training are needed to create a future work force that will then be able to pass on what they have learned.
        I have no problem with college degrees and what they have helped do but let us tip our hats to the work forces that created the walls and foundations on which the degrees are hung,

  5. mark worley says:

    it used to be that 83% of construction jobs were held by 18-23 year olds.
    The recession moved construction workers into the transportation and energy fields..now that they can come back they are saying NO, because
    they have better benefits available in those sectors.
    Many went ahead and took early retirement…and as one said above Big Box took a few.

  6. Dave Hale says:

    There was a labor shortage before Trump ever took office. The problem is the last two administration kept pushing collage for everyone. The simple fact is, collage is not for everyone we have taken out all the trade classes out of our schools and pushed all theses kids in to collage and debt. We need more trade schools and to show the next generation that there can make a good living and at the end of the day they can look back and be proud of what they have built. For the record the problem is not so much lack of man power it’s lack of quality and skilled manpower. The job that use to take two skilled journeyman carpenters now take five partly trained carpenters there is no apprentice program for theses people to enroll in and get the training need.

  7. Wayne says:

    Let’s not forget the slowdown in 2007 drove people out of the industry. You can’t frame a house on a smartphone. There has always been a difference in pay for carpenters vs plumbers electrical and hvac. It’s finally showing up. A living wage for carpenters has been needed for a long time. Having a framing company for 28 years I can’t believe it took this long Like the previous post there needs to be a reinstall of the trades in schools. what a shame.

  8. Ron Jones says:

    “Put them in trade schools? Bring back shop classes? Depend on Washington to fix things?

    This is the dinosaur thinking that keeps the building industry in the dark ages. Twenty-first century problems will not be eliminated by applying nineteenth century solutions. Might as well suggest training workers to build/repair horse drawn buggies.

    The building industry is ripe for major overhauls in many areas, but it has to start with the archaic thought process and CULTURE that is so stubbornly clung to. Good luck with that. When will we see that it’s the industry that is broken, not the workforce?

  9. Jon Kessler says:

    A shortage of carpenters is a predictable event. Since Roe VS Wade, 60 million American babies have been aborted. The answer to where are all the carpenters is- they are in the landfill, along with their children, grandchildren, and our future generations. What you sow is what you grow. You can’t spray Roundup on your yard, then wonder why you don’t have any grass.

    There is also a dramatic change in the attitude concerning work. We used to hire college students to paint our apartments in the summer. We used to be farm kids who worked hard, did a good job, and made good money.
    However, I fired the last crew of 5 students. Three of them stood around texting, while the other two slopped paint on the brick and concrete porches.

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